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Are You Practicing Perfection? Or Are You A Work In Progress?

What’s your relationship with perfectionism like?

Does it sometimes storm in wielding a red pen?
Does it make it hard for you to even begin things sometimes, knowing that it’s waiting to judge you?
Or have you learned to negotiate with it?

There’s something that’s always struck me as a little strange about perfectionism. It assumes completion – that a thing can be finished. Whole. Over. Done. So in a world where it seems that ‘the only constant is change’, perfectionism demands a static ending.

It wants the destination over the journey…

That’s so different from this little handwritten note on an otherwise blank noticeboard in a stiflingly, clinically (‘perfectly’) refurbished waiting room:

“I’m a work in progress”


So how do you want to approach your life?

Do you demand ‘110%’ of yourself?
Do you go along with perfectionism’s insistence that (somehow) all the finishing touches should be added before a thing is even begun? That there should be nothing to change or alter or evolve. Nothing more to do except keep the dust from gathering…

Or might you embrace the flow of being a work in progress?
An unfinished, unfolding symphony, perhaps. An artwork you can return to again and again. Something you can keep bringing your creativity and curiosity to. Something you can grow alongside…

It’s worth taking a moment to contemplate.

For how can you really learn anything for the first time if mistakes are somehow banned? How can you freely experiment with new ideas or new ways of being if the pressure’s on to ‘get it right’ all the time?

Apparently, there was a tradition among Persian carpet weavers that challenged all this stuff about perfectionism. It’s said that the weavers deliberately wove in a mistake. That, according to their faith, only Allah (or insert your own concept of a higher power here) is perfect. That being human simply means accepting imperfection as part of the deal…

And it’s funny, but as I sit here writing this post, I’m very aware of perfectionism whispering over my shoulder at me, too – telling me this post ‘should’ be better or more cohesive somehow; that I need to ‘perfect’ it before I dare send it out into the world.

It’s very tempting to listen to that.

But I think I’ll take the weavers’ example this time – to let the imperfections stay; to welcome them, even. To acknowledge that this, too, is a work in progress (as so much of life seems to be). And to just continue weaving …

So what might you do next time you’re faced with that choice? Practice perfectionism? Or get creative with your own evolving work in progress?


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
Are You Practicing Perfection? Or Are You A Work In Progress?

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2011). Are You Practicing Perfection? Or Are You A Work In Progress?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Mar 2011
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