Does Perfectionism Help You Be More Creative?

Wabi-sabi bowlPerfectionism can be experienced as an intense drive toward excellence – or as a pathological obsession that impedes spontaneous imagination and creative play.

In her post Blogging My Way Through Perfectionism, Lisa Rivero comments about Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, author of The Gifted Adult:

“Jacobsen differentiates between pathologically perfectionistic obsessions or compulsions, on the one hand, and an innate ‘drive to perfect’ on the other. She writes, ‘Contrary to some psychological theories, a perfection orientation is not dysfunctional and not equivalent to compulsive perfectionism. A wholly negative view of the drive toward perfection is a troubling distortion of its original meaning….’ ”

Rivero adds, “The problem comes when we adopt an all or nothing attitude: ‘No matter how difficult or great the accomplishment, it isn’t enough. What we do is never good enough, according to perfectionistic criteria.”’

Rivero is author of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens: Living with Intense and Creative Adolescents.


“She can be quite murderously challenging in her perfectionism.
Take Twenty: ‘Are you sure that’s good enough?’ [Kidman says.]
“We’re going, [wearily] ‘Yeah.’ ”

Director Jane Campion about working with Nicole Kidman on “Portrait of a Lady” – also quoted in my post: Striving for excellence: “Perfectionism has taken a bum rap.”


Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, director of the Gifted Development Center, writes:

“The pursuit of excellence is a personal journey into higher realms of existence, a journey that enriches the self and the world through its bounty. It is the crucible that purifies the spirit – the manifestation of life’s longing for evolution.

“A cherished goal for only a small portion of the population, excellence is the hard-won prize of those whose zeal and dedication are fueled by the drive to attain perfection, as they envision it.

“Chiefly an affliction of the gifted.. perfectionism is not a malady; it is a tool of self-development.”

From her article Perfectionism: The Crucible of Giftedness, Advanced Development, 1999, 8, 47-61 [PDF].

Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond, PhD would probably agree, and declares: “Were it not for perfectionism, we would be in short supply of all those myriad human activities we deem extraordinary, excellent, outstanding or great in quality. Once upon a time perfectionism was perceived not as neurosis, but rather as a sign of commitment, caring,  and devotion to one’s work…”

From his article In Praise of Perfectionism.


In his Psych Central article “Perfectionism: Adaptation or Pathology?”, Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. notes, “Somewhere on a continuum between normality and pathology there is a point at which an otherwise culturally normal behavior acquires a problematic degree.

“In other words, there is a point at which the given behavior results in functional impairment.  The difficulty of establishing whether your particular perfectionism has met the diagnostic threshold of pathology has to do with the specific cultural norms of the society in which you reside and function.”

[Pavel G. Somov is author of the book Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control.]

From my article Too Much Perfectionism.


Gwyneth Paltrow“Striving for achieving a sense of perfection has been a misguided belief in my life, often leading me down the wrong path.

“It has made me, at times, place value on the wrong things. It has made me not listen to my true self for fear that I would somehow fail in another’s eyes.

“I was curious as to how the idea of perfection has become so pervasive in our society, how it begins, how it hurts us and perhaps, even, if it carries a certain benefit.”

Gwyneth Paltrow, in her Goop site post “Perfect” – which also includes quotes by author Peter Sims, psychologists Susan McNary, PhD and Jessica Zucker, PhD and author, speaker and research professor Dr. Brené Brown.


“I’m a maniacal perfectionist. And if I weren’t, I wouldn’t have this company. It’s the best rap!”

Martha StewartMartha Stewart – in response to an interviewer asking, “Are you a perfectionist, or is that just the perception the world has of you?”

Stewart goes on to say, “Nobody’s going to fault me for that. I have proven that being a perfectionist can be profitable and admirable when creating content across the board: in television, books, newspapers, radio, videos. .. All that content is impeccable.”

From my article Perfectionism.

But her daughter Alexis Stewart, writes that although her mother strived for television perfection, she was less than a perfect parent.

“If I didn’t do something perfectly, I had to do it again. I grew up with a glue gun pointed at my head…Martha does everything better. You can’t win!” she writes in her book Whateverland: Learning to Live Here.

Where do we get it?

In her article Perfectionism: From the inside out or the outside in?, Seattle counselor Lisa Erickson, MS, LMHC, writes, ” I’ve been thinking about varieties of perfectionism since having a discussion with a gifted trauma survivor. It became clear that some of their perfectionism was an expression of giftedness and some was related to family of origin issues. Same outcome, different sources.

“Does the source of perfectionism matter? I think it does. … Much has been written about perfectionism and its relationship with giftedness. The gifted person is driven to express their interests and pursuits.

“Perfectionism is about passion, energy, and focus. The person may feel exhausted, tortured and frustrated, but the process can be interesting and rewarding, too. If their creative endeavor falls short, the gifted person pushes onward to get as close as they can to what they envision.

“Perfectionism is connected to developmental potential and entelechy. It is the determination to be the best one can be. This type of perfectionism is rooted internally in giftedness. It is intrinsic. It moves from the “inside out”.

“Another type of perfectionism is rooted in having an impaired parent (or two).

“This type of perfectionism is a response to outside circumstances. It is a consequence of abandonment and neglect. Its source is external. This perfectionism is an adaptation. It moves from the ‘outside in.'”

Working with it or overcoming it

In her book “The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block,” author, teacher and coach Hillary Rettig includes a helpful section titled “Perfectionists Hold Unrealistic Definitions of Success and Punish Themselves Harshly for the Inevitable Failures.”

She writes, “Many people think perfectionism is a destructive habit or way of thinking, but it’s actually much worse than that: it’s a kind of toxic filter through which you view yourself, your work, and the world. Perfectionists make six overarching mistakes:

1. They hold unrealistic definitions of success and punish themselves harshly for perceived failures.
2. They are grandiose.
3. They prioritize product over process.
4. They over-rely on external rewards and measures of success.
5. They deprecate the ordinary processes of creativity and career-building.
6. They overidentify with their work.

She also suggests a number of “Antiperfectionist Techniques” such as:

“Get an Instructive Hobby. Many writers have hobbies or other creative outlets in which they are much more productive than their writing, or even wholly unblocked. Every writer should have one, and should practice working out her productivity and perfectionism issues in that realm as well. A student once told of a quilting teacher she had who chirpily told a class, ‘If no one’s bleeding, we’re doing great!’ That’s a great antiperfectionist lesson.” …

“My hobby is hiking, and every time I do it I viscerally re-experience the truth that progress is made one step at a time. Also, I learn important lessons in overcoming fear and asking for help.”

Rettig promises, “After you can reliably write nonperfectionistically, you free yourself to write easily (without major barriers), and then almost effortlessly (without any barriers to speak of). At this point, writing becomes enthralling and even joyful. Even the ‘difficult’ (in the intellectual or emotional sense) parts of the work become much easier. …

“The state of creativity without barriers is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi famously called ‘flow.’ In flow, you’re deeply engrossed in your work and time flies.

“Perfectionists fight their creativity every step of the way, while paradoxically waiting and hoping and praying for flow to arrive. Compassionately objective writers, in contrast, develop work habits and attitudes that invite flow in, and so they experience flow many or even most of the times they write.”

You can get the book at her site: Hillary Rettig – Liberation From Procrastination.

Speaking of the tendency many creative people have, at least sometimes, to postpone, creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD asks, “Are you creating less often than you would like? Are you avoiding your creative work altogether? Do you procrastinate? That’s anxiety.”

From my post Creative Anxiety – Are You Procrastinating?

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

~ Leonard Cohen, from his book Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs.


Photo of bowl at top from post: Wabi-Sabi: Translating the Beauty in Imperfection.

Wabi-sabi “represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete'”. [Wikipedia]

Post: Striving for excellence: “Perfectionism has taken a bum rap.”

Post:  Steve Jobs: Intensities and Overexcitabilities – The photo is Jobs with the original 1984 Macintosh, which was not made to be opened by the owner, but biographer Walter Isaacson says Jobs thought the main circuit board looked ugly, that the chips were not arrayed nicely, so it had to be re-manufactured. One of his staff noted that no one would see it; Steve said “But we will know.”

Article: Apple Seeds, Wabi-Sabi, and Appearances by Eric Maisel, PhD – “I can no longer find the reference, but somewhere I read that the imperfections in Victorian windows are known as apple seeds.”

List of more Perfectionism articles

High Ability site posts on perfectionism

Page of quotes on perfectionism

Books on perfectionism


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Originally posted 2013-04-29 17:28:14.

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