Ask Dr. Tim: I am an unsuccessful perfectionist.

Ask Dr. Tim: I am an unsuccessful perfectionist.


I have come to realize that I am an unsuccessful perfectionist. I am guessing it started when I was a young girl. My room was always clean and organized, especially in comparison to my younger sister’s room. I have tried to maintain a perfect house with well-accomplished children.

Now in my mid-50’s I am beginning to experience increased levels of anxiety. This is especially true at work. My work demands that I make no mistakes. In fact, as a medical professional, it is true that people’s lives are at stake.

I am so afraid that others will find out that I am not doing a perfect job.



Dear Donna,

First of all there is a real positive aspect at work here. Aren’t we all glad that there has been a marriage of your personality style and your occupation? Anyone who has ever been a medical patient certainly prefers our medical professionals to be on the side of perfection vs. sloppiness.

That being said, you may first want to look at your definition of perfection. Whenever we hold the belief that perfection means not making a mistake, we are in for disappointment. Please point out even one human who does not make mistakes. The best athletics make mistakes. The best musicians make mistakes. The best doctors make mistakes, etc. In other words, holding ourselves to a life without mistakes is irrational.

So our first task is to determine if our thoughts are rational or irrational. We certainly want to be our best, but even our best is about recovering from mistakes.

Second, if we want to have better performance, one important task is to…be willing to fail. For the most part your anxiety is about being so uptight about making a mistake, that it propels you into poor performance or failure.

Therefore, we have a paradoxical (an seemingly illogical thought) concept: until you are willing to fail, you will not succeed at your desired level of performance.

Dr. Tim

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