It’s hard being perfect

When hiring managers ask, “What is your greatest weakness?” crafty job applicants let the spin begin.

“I work so hard that I have a hard time maintaining work-life balance.”

“I tend to set my goals too high.”

“My extreme commitment to excellence sometimes gets me bogged down in the details.”

“I have trouble taking no for an answer.”

And my personal favorite, “I struggle with perfectionism.”

I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can get you?

What employer wouldn’t want a perfectionist for an employee? Maybe one who’s ever had one.

Mental health professionals disagree over whether perfectionism is a psychopathology. World-class athletes, after all, simply adapt their perfectionism to attain ultra-high performance levels. But what about those of us who simply adapt our perfectionism to really annoy those around us, at best, and emotionally hurt them, at worst.

First, the annoying.

A friend and I were discussing kitchen cleaning. He can whip through a post-meal cleanup in 10 minutes. To his irritation, his wife can’t seem to get it done in thirty. It takes me forty-five. So, I tried to explain that his wife comes across a counter corner that hasn’t been addressed in six weeks and feels compelled to “get the job done right.”

There’s a lot riding on that corner’s being clean, by the way. It could be the difference of $20,000 of property value.

For example, if roaches find sustenance on the counter, they will invite their friends, the termites, who will eventually find sustenance in the walls. Or, if the stickiness hardens, it will permanently discolor the countertop. A potential buyer will notice and forego a top-dollar offer, leaving only bottom feeders to bid.

I have been accused of being so thorough with my pre-wash routine that an automatic dish wash seems superfluous. Maybe so, but in my perfected mind, a thorough pre-wash sure beats egg stuck to a spatula even after a 2-hour wash cycle.

It was on this note recently that my wife (a 10-minute kitchen cleaner) repeated the long lost domestic wisdom of my father, “It’s been sanitized.” Ahhhhh!!! Yes, but who wants to eat Frosted Flakes from an egg-coated spoon???

Before I get in trouble, let me assert that my bride is not hygienically-challenged. I am simply hygienically-sensitive, an offshoot of perfectionism, no doubt.

Then, the hurtful.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about adults’ treating children irresponsibly. While discussing the article with a good friend, we agreed that perfectionism has no place in the raising of children.

More broadly, it has no place in any relationship. The setting of impossibly high standards may make the setter feel in control, but it eventually propels people away. They will get out from under the unrealistic expectations as soon as an avenue presents itself.

Perfectionism has been linked to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, even suicide. And that’s just in the perpetrator. The perpetrated against are likely driven to similar outcomes, and/or to repeat the cycle of perfectionism.

In the end, a perfectionist’s expectations for himself and others are neither about his or their potential, nor his or their good. They are about placating the perfectionist’s need to reduce uncertainty, prevent exposure and cover up weakness.

In other words, perfectionism seeks to eliminate the things that make life interesting and relationships necessary.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

6 Responses to “It’s hard being perfect”

  1. 1 mrdonnigeria April 5, 2013 at 00:45

    You forgot to mention that I always “flicked” off the egg before I used the spoon to eat my cereal and I never got sick. Dad. PS I got my tickets today for a trip to do surgery at NCH. The surgeon lost his assistant due to school course and he is paying half my ticket for me to join him. May 19th to June 4th ( don’t tell the kidnappers). It will be my last spring trip because I can’t stand missing those grandchildren ballgames. You can follow our surgeries before and future at earthwide Brian called me today and wants me to do a “Spleenectomy” by myself. Look at our “mother ” all Spleens from our last trip. Also, check out the giant left kidney that we removed from that five year old. Love you!


  2. 2 Susan Allen April 5, 2013 at 08:27

    I have to give a talk in a couple of weeks and its going to focus on relationships – with your permission, I’m going to use some of this.

    Susan (Susie) Allen

    Texas Heritage Bank

    1208 S. Main

    Boerne, Texas 78006

    830-815-1043 (metro)


    830-249-3988 (fax)

    Offices in Cross Plains, Boerne and Leon Springs to serve you!!!

  3. 3 jessestroup April 5, 2013 at 17:26

    I hope I would read your articles even if I were not related to you.  You help me relax and l o l.  I see and feel so vividly while I am reading.  Thanks Kevin.  I am pleased you have good friends to talk with.  Sometimes the anticipation of talking with a friend about doing the dishes helps take the edge off of doing that perpetual job.  I like you.  Better go now,  there are dishes to do! Jesse

    Jesse R. Stroup

    Director of Spiritual Care

    Lifeline Chaplaincy

    2777 Stemmons Place, Ste. 1020

    Dallas, TX 75207


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