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My sister often says that your qualities are gifts when you are in charge of them, but problems when they are in charge of you. A drive for excellence is an excellent thing, but perfectionism – when nothing is ever good enough unless it is “perfect” – can become a destructive force in our lives.

Getting stuck in the details of what’s lacking and forever measuring ourselves against some impossible standard can diminish our joy and ability to keep the big picture of what we truly most want to accomplish in mind.

One of my life tasks is to set boundaries with myself about my forms of perfectionism. We have a Kidpower saying that, “You don’t have to be perfect to be great!” A useful correllary is, “Trying too hard to be perfect can cause you to lose great.”

For example, my perfectionism often takes the form of trying to do too much with way too little. Many people, when they try to fit too much activity into too small a “box” of time and resources, tend to have things they have promised to do and need to do spilling over the top and not getting done. More often, I tend to cram so much into my box of time that the whole box starts straining at the seams, which is hard on anyone sharing that box with me,not to mention myself.

As a recovering perfectionist about some aspects of my life (NOT housekeeping or cooking, however), here are a few things that I have found to be helpful:

1) Notice my anxiety about things not being perfect and focus on regaining perspective rather than on trying harder.

2) Before I try to fix something, ask myself, “Is this really important or am I being a nitpicker right now?”

3) Celebrate each moment, our mistakes as well as our successes. Remember that falling down is part of learning to walk. If we were to worry about each fall as being a failure to walk, our toddlers could get discouraged, Instead, we cheer toddlers on for each attempt, however shaky, and however often they plop onto the ground. Let’s start celebrating each moment for ourselves and others in each part of our lives.


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Published: September 19, 2012   |   Last Updated: May 17, 2023

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, and the Amazon Best Seller Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels.