Navigating Perfectionist Tendencies: Why Perfect Is the Enemy of Good?

Are you someone who always has to get things just right? Are you never quite satisfied with something unless it's really perfect? Perfectionism is often considered a positive trait, yet it can be extremely discouraging and make people miserable.

In this article, let's find out what's really behind perfectionism – and why the well-known saying 'perfect is the enemy of good' summarizes all its negative outcomes.

You will learn how setting an unrealistic standard for yourself of perfection may disconnect your goals, thwart self-improvement, and even take a toll on your overall well-being.

And we will help you find the strategies to navigate those ingrained habits and find that new balancing act between excellence and self-acceptance. Join us on a journey to understanding why perfect isn't always all it's cracked up to be.

Short Summary

What Does "Perfect Is the Enemy of Good" Mean?

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The idea of "perfect is the enemy of good" might be commonly attributed to Voltaire, but it's as relevant today as in his day.

The phrase sums up our problem with prioritizing perfection over something already good enough. We live in a society obsessed with finding the best – and only the best – and everything excellent and ideal.

Say you're planning a night out: instead of just choosing a nice restaurant nearby where the food tastes delicious and there's a cozy atmosphere, you can spend hours researching online for "the best" place in town.

You want to find somewhere perfect or nothing at all. This drive for perfection can deprive us of simple pleasures while causing unnecessary stress and disappointment because what we expect doesn't match reality.

And it extends beyond dining choices, too. Prevailing grade inflation in schools reflects an attitude that mediocrity is unacceptable. Students feel they have to aim for straight A's rather than focus on personal growth or understanding what they are being taught.

The desire for perfection breeds discontentment and misspent opportunities for happiness. So worried are we with an unreachable ideal that we fail to appreciate all the little things that are genuinely good about our lives (whether relationships, experiences, or achievements).

Why Perfectionism Can Affect You Negatively

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While pursuing perfectionism may initially appear admirable, it can damage our happiness and achievement. In their belief in the "golden mean," the ancient Greeks recognized a downside to excess: that too much of a good thing can turn bad – and perfectionism is no exception.

One way in which perfectionism harms us is by consuming time. Perfectionists struggle to judge every task as "good enough." So, they get trapped in an endless cycle of striving for a finished product that's impossible to achieve.

Rather than completing tasks efficiently, they tinker with them forever, often wasting energy and delaying progress.

Sticking strictly to our idea of what perfect looks like also misinterprets judgment. We become disheartened as we compare ourselves relentlessly against unrealistic standards we've set for ourselves.

Thus, we cannot acknowledge how well we've done or are doing at something. This constant dissatisfaction then leaks into other areas of life – fuelling pervasive discontent.

As well as damaging productivity, this mindset also shortens enjoyment on the path towards self-improvement.

By welcoming the notion of being "good enough," you free yourself from feeling that everything has to be flawless all the time – opening up opportunities for growth and contentment instead.

How to Prevent Perfect From Becoming the Enemy of Good

Achieving a balance between good and perfection means you must actively make an effort to change your thinking. Here are some strategies to help you work through this behavior and achieve a healthier balance.

1. Make Sure You Set Goals That Are Realistic

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Perfectionists often set themselves unrealistic goals, which can result in setting the bar too high for what is achievable by yourself or anyone else in a specific moment of point of life.

For example, if you’re working on a project, instead of starting off expecting perfect execution from day one, understand that part of learning is making mistakes as you progress toward success.

In relationships, too – understand that nobody is perfect and see imperfections as opportunities for growth or connection.

Setting realistic expectations will help ease pressure on yourself unnecessarily trying to reach something unattainable. Remember, progress is more important than chasing after something impossible to define!

2. Recognize Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

Losing something and making a mistake might not be the end but the beginning of achieving success. By analyzing these situations as learning points, you open yourself up for growth and development as an individual or professional.

Sayings like "I have not failed—I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work" by Thomas Edison during the invention of the light bulb help reframe mistakes into valuable takeaways. Reframing this perspective gives you insights that push you forward to personal growth and career achievements.

Take a misspoken word during a presentation or even a business venture that went wrong. Each misstep teaches resilience, adaptability, problem-solving, and more when seen through the lens of developing those skills within yourself.

Ultimately, don't shy away from mistakes. Welcome them so they can guide you toward personal growth or professional advancement.

3. Prioritize Tasks Wisely

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In your quest for perfection, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture and get stuck in the details. That's where prioritizing tasks wisely comes in. It means figuring out what matters on a project or goal and apportioning your resources accordingly.

For example, you're working on a project. Instead of spending hours refining every little detail (and driving yourself crazy), focus on nailing the key elements that will make all the difference to the final result.

Doing this lets you work smart, not hard – leveraging your time and effort to achieve things that matter efficiently without falling into perfectionist paralysis.

4. Practice Self-Compassion

To prevent perfectionism from dragging you down, practicing self-compassion is crucial. When you experience setbacks or failures, be kind and understanding with yourself. Imagine how you would offer understanding and support to a friend who went through something similar.

For example, if there's a work goal that you didn't meet, instead of beating yourself up for not being perfect, remind yourself that everybody makes mistakes—and use this experience as a chance to learn and grow.

Extending compassion toward yourself in these moments leaves room for self-acceptance and resilience—breaking the stranglehold of perfectionism.

5. Celebrate Progress, Not Just Perfection

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On the path to self-improvement, it's crucial to celebrate progress rather than fixating on perfection. Whether you've finished a demanding work assignment, picked up a fresh skill, or had some interesting ideas, acknowledging and applauding your achievements at each stage is vital.

Doing so bolsters motivation and confidence, encouraging further growth. For example, if you're learning an instrument, congratulate yourself on every advance – mastering an especially tricky chord or playing a whole tune.

As you celebrate progress, you redirect your attention away from impossible flawlessness and towards the tiny steps that pave the way to development and triumph.


In our quest for perfection, it's easy to forget that progress and satisfaction demand an adoption of imperfection and a willingness to take risks.

Imperfection is not failure. It is about having the courage to step outside your comfort zone, to be yourself, and to invite uncertainty in.

By letting go of the need for constant flawlessness, you make room for experimenting, trial and error – trying and trying again – and taking pleasure in striving for personal or professional betterment.

To welcome imperfections is also a way of thriving amid flux. It means living a rich life marked by experience, growth, and authenticity.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Did Voltaire Mean By the Best Is the Enemy of Good?

Voltaire argued that constantly striving for perfection can prevent us from seeing and appreciating what is good enough. In other words, we can miss some really good things.

What Is an Example of Perfect Being the Enemy of Good?

For example, the perfect is the enemy of the good, meaning searching for the perfect restaurant would keep you from enjoying a great place right around the corner.

Why Is Absolute Perfection a Bad Quality for Business Leaders?

Striving for absolute perfection might make you appear to have an undesirable quality as a business leader – indecision, micromanagement, and risk aversion. It can also stifle growth and innovation.

Is It True That Perfectionism Can Hide Other Behaviors?

Yes, perfectionism can cloak or mask other behaviors such as procrastination, fear of failure, criticism, or undue stress. It's a face veil concealing other issues that may obstruct personal and professional growth in someone who appears confident.