Letting Go Of Perfectionism

“Put a mark next to your name, Kim.”


It was 5th grade and I was out of my seat using the pencil sharpener attached to the wall. (It was the 80’s, ya’ll.)

Our classroom behavior management system consisted of a large piece of paper hung on the wall listing all of our names. If someone got in trouble, they had to walk over to that paper and draw a dot next to their name.

When I heard my name called, I was horrified, so much so that I remember this incident 38 years later. I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to be out of my seat at that time. It was a simple mistake, an oops. It could’ve been no big deal, but it wasn’t.

I worked very hard to avoid making mistakes. I spent my school days performing, perfecting, and pleasing to avoid being ostracized, judged, or negatively in the spotlight.

I was sensitive to my teacher’s correction, to feeling stupid because I messed up, and to being called out in front of my classmates. I felt deeply ashamed.

In that moment, Perfectionism grabbed my hand and squeezed even tighter than before, “I’ll protect you from this yucky feeling. Just avoid everything I warn you about and this will never happen to you again.”

What I didn’t know then that I do know now is Perfectionism lies.

Perfectionism in kids can look like…

  • Taking a long time to answer questions or decide what to say.
  • Being slow to finish work due to being meticulous or repeatedly checking answers.
  • Taking it personally and being self-critical when they fail at something.
  • Trouble with or avoidance of making decisions.
  • Throwing in the towel, giving up, or getting upset when they make a mistake.
  • Procrastinating because they can’t fail something they don’t start it.
  • Avoiding new situations or things with unknown outcomes because they could go bad.
  • Asking for help before they try things for themselves.
  • Sensitivity to being corrected.
  • Trouble letting themselves off the hook for fear that if they do they will fail.

Perfectionism isn’t truly about wanting to be perfect. It’s about wanting to avoid the real or perceived consequences of making a mistake or failing.

Perfectionism tells us when we fail or make a mistake that we ARE a failure, that who we are isn’t enough.

It’s driven by anxiety. An anxious mind is in protection mode telling us how to avoid situations where we could mess up, fail, and feel ashamed.

Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight. – Brené Brown

Take a moment and think about soccer ⚽️ or any other sport. Now imagine, what the sport would be like without obstacles or challenges to overcome.

What would be the fun in running back and forth unchallenged to kick a soccer ball into an unguarded net?

If there was always a straight shot to score, who would want to play?

Challenges, obstacles, mistakes, and failures make life interesting. They’re part of how we learn and grow. Failing is an essential part of the human experience.

And we have a choice.

We can connect our failures with who we are or we can build our “enoughness muscles.”

We are good-enough, smart-enough, brave-enough, confident-enough, kind-enough, and attractive-enough, no matter what!

The big question is how do we guide children to adopt this mindset even if some of us might still be working on this ourselves?

How is perfectionism impacting your children, students, or clients? Did anything above resonate with you or is your experience different? Let me know in the comments below.