When Professionally Perfect Doesn’t Feel Good Enough

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Have you ever experienced the deflated feeling that comes with accomplishing a professional goal, only to realize shortly afterwards it doesn’t feel good enough?

I have – and often. And interestingly, most of the people I’ve met through both The Finch Effect and The Life Uncommon have felt like this frequently as well.

Maybe it’s a Millennial thing – maybe it’s a people-who-care-about-their-careers thing. But all I know is it is an insidious problem that has the power to snuff out fulfillment and professional joy faster than anything else. It has the power to turn an Uncommon Life into a death march toward an ideal that doesn’t exist.

Perfection is something that has concerned me as a professional and a person for most of my life. I strive for it, I obsess over it, and I keenly feel its lack in most everything I do. I’ve written about my struggles with perfection here at The Life Uncommon over the years, and it has popped up in my working philosophy often: overcoming the should mentality, creating personal definitions of success, etc.

But I’ve never found a way to overcome it – and maybe I’ve never been able to properly articulate it. I compare everything I do, everywhere I am in life, to some generic, perfect ideal. I judge my own success against the success of a fictional, Stepford Wife version of myself who never made a mistake, never did the wrong thing.

Logically, I know that the Stepford Nacie would be someone I and everyone else would hate – she would have no character, no depth, no empathy, no insight. She would be a two-dimensional being, a paper doll, a glossy magazine cover.

But emotionally, I strive to be her as a professional and a person, and feel just not good enough when I fall short – which, as you can imagine, is just about every day.

In my travels, other people who feel this way too have told me that the current economic environment has made this feeling worse – that there is less room for error in our world, and competition is so fierce that the difference between getting the job and getting a rejection letter is a matter of minuscule details.  For those of use who struggle against a perfection-impulse, this fact simply heightens our anxiety and self-criticism.

How can we project a confident Adaptive Professional Brand if we deem ourselves embarrassingly flawed? How can we adapt and thrive to an external world when we are constantly trying to adapt to our own limitations? How can we be present in our Uncommon Lives when we are always analyzing the imperfect past or planning a perfect future?

I realized this was an issue I couldn’t tackle alone, so I’ve reached out to some of the people who inspire and challenge me for their insights. Here are what they have to say:

As Kammie K mentioned in her wonderful blog this week, “Half the reason we think there is a “perfect” in the first place is because we’re holding ourselves up to someone else and saying, “Yeah but I don’t look like, write like, create art like, sing like, charm like, sell like, run like, {you pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?} him/her/it/they. Knock it OFF already! There is no “perfect”. There is simply OTHER than. Different from. Not the same as. Just do YOU. Rock it out. Turn a page. Move along.”

As my friend @mattsurabian notes, “Perfection and excellence are wholly different. One is fictitious.”

As Dave Ursillo, founder of The Literati Writer’s Group says, “By reminding myself that “I don’t measure up” is self-defeating: pre-emptive failure from self-judgment. I’ve gotten so used to reminding myself (regarding daily work, blog posts, etc) that I think it’s now automatic. But for books + bigger projects, it’s tougher! It’s more like creative defiance; “everything is imperfect, but this serves a bigger purpose”

What about you – do you struggle against the drive for perfection and the inevitable disappointment it creates? Or have you found a way to be happy in your professional imperfection?  I would love to hear your story or advice in the comments section – this is a real challenge that so many of us struggle with!

Here’s to your Joyfully Imperfect and Uncommon Life,


Written by Nacie Carson

Nacie Carson is a the author of The Finch Effect (Jossey-Bass), founder of The Life Uncommon, and CEO of Working Life Media, LLC.


  1. Jodee says

    Perfect comes with too high a price. I’m not prepared to sacrifice my happiness, my relationships, or my sanity to keep striving for a goal that keeps getting set just beyond my reach. I can and do strive to do my best every day. That is enough.

  2. Nacie Carson says

    Hi Jodee – I love this thought, and am very intrigued about how you were able to get to this zen place. Have you always felt this way, or was it a decision you came to and then stuck with? Thanks for sharing!

  3. says

    Hi Nacie – I love that you’re kicking the lid off of this topic! I think it comes down to stepping into and really OWNING our authentic voice. For example I can hardley read some of my old blog posts from way back in like 2005…it just doesn’t sound like ME. It sounds like me TRYING to sound like what I thought a “coach” should (there’s that nasty SHOULD again) sound like. Seems like exploring tools/resources and ways to really rock it out in our own unique/quirky/individual way is where it’s at. You do a great job of this…keep stepping out and shining brightly. Rock it mama!!

  4. says

    Perfectionism provides a ‘benefit’.

    Find another way to get this ‘benefit’ and you have a choice about it.

    The reason for the quotes is that the benefit can be something we usually think of as negative eg confirming a view of ourselves that we are hopeless, will never do anything well and so on.

    It is often a strategy to gain acceptance (it doesn’t usually work).

    So (to perhaps be even more confrontational): How do you care for that beautiful little girl inside every single day?

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