The Perils of Perfect

Written by: Jennifer Bowden, Training and Workshop Facilitator

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” – Voltaire


As a culture, we seem to be somewhat obsessed with idea of perfection. We internalize the idea that we should look like celebrities or models, as if Botox and Photoshopping are non-existent. We look at homes in magazines and convince ourselves that other people’s homes are clutter-less and photo-shoot-ready all the time. We see beautiful gourmet food professionally styled and photographed, and wince at the homemade casserole we put on the table for last night’s dinner.

Perfection is a tempting idea but it’s just that – an IDEA. It’s not a way to live. And it’s certainly not a judgment on the real lives we’ve built for ourselves.

I found a wonderful blog post written by psychologist Alex Lickerman, which eloquently sums up the perils of perfect: “As long as I can remember, I’ve been burdened with a desire for perfection in all my creative endeavors …But my dogged pursuit … has often proven itself to be the greatest obstacle to my achieving it. … the result is often paralysis.”

Does this sound familiar in your job search? Consider the following in terms of writing a resume:

“The quest for perfection also leads to dithering: the endless reworking of a sentence … from its original form until it comes full circle back to the form in which we originally laid it down. … And this, of course, presumes we’re able to make it back around to a form we even consider good, so confused is our judgment often made by this ruminative process. More commonly, we don’t so much finish a project as abandon it, not knowing what else to do to salvage it from the wreckage our own obsessive tinkering has produced.”

I can’t tell your how many times I’ve worked with a job seeker who hasn’t applied for a job or reached out to a networking contact or followed up on a lead because “I’m still tweaking my resume.” Here, indeed, perfect is the enemy of good. And good is what allows us to head out into the fray of the job search once again, head held high, ready to persist in the finding the opportunity that allows us to be the best possible versions of ourselves. We all have our own personal path to awesome (thanks, Kid President!), and endless tinkering and dithering and tweaking keeps us from setting our feet on that path. We confuse activity with progress, and feel defeated when we don’t end up anywhere.

“If we’re lucky we see, sometimes in a flash that lasts only a split second, not how to make it perfect but how to make it work. … without becoming trapped in a miasma of permanent dissatisfaction. … At some point, we must remind ourselves, any changes we make to a creation no longer make it better but just different (and sometimes worse). If we allow ourselves to remain at the mercy of our desire for perfection, not only will the perfect elude us, so will the good.”

There is no perfect resume. There is no perfect plan. We haven’t been hiding the secret to success from you all this time – like Dorothy’s ability to return home from the land of Oz, the power to transform yourself and your life and your career is within you, where it’s been all along.

What has your need for perfection kept you from beginning?

“More powerful than the will to win is the courage to begin.” – Duane Hart


4 thoughts on “The Perils of Perfect

    • Thanks for the feedback – it’s great to hear that this post sparked some ideas! “Perfect” really gets to be an excuse in the job search.

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