Perfection – A Really Loaded Word

Perfection is a word that guarantees failure. Perfection in life, unlike in spelling or in math, is unattainable. And yet 40% of youth identify as perfectionists.

If we aim for perfection we will miss it, but we might hit excellence along the way. ~ Vince Lombardi

Strong business leaders, school counselors, therapists, and coaches believe we should eliminate the word ‘perfect’ from our vocabulary.

I recently discussed this issue with Dr. Cheryl Cooper MD, and I explained how I work with people who have ‘perfection’ as one of their core value words.

How do I support their values as core to their being,  yet also dislodge this word for them, if it is not serving them well? I added when it comes to IQ, ‘perfect’ may be appropriate for spreadsheets where 2+2 = 4, and 4 is the perfect answer. But we discussed EQ – what is perfect listening? Perfect achievement? Perfect leadership? A perfect student? A perfect friendship? When it comes to these things, there simply is no perfect.

Dr. Cooper encouraged me to lean into accuracy and precision as possible core values and try to avoid using the word ‘perfect.’ We have the opportunity to replace the word ‘perfect’ in our mindset with words like ‘try-your-best’ and ‘do-better.’ These work better as replacements for perfect in emotional terms.

In yesteryear ‘perfect’ was hyperbole and a theoretical goal. Many of today’s youth (Millennials and iGen) have perfection, as an actual goal. Perfection is driving negative outcomes. Perfect grades, perfect athletics, perfect music accomplishment, perfect in our friend count, and all done with a minimal amount of sleep. Way too many youth believe they can work more effectively on 3-5 hours of sleep.

They sacrifice their health to be perfect which seems difficult to imagine, for those of us who aren’t iGen. I don’t understand a lot about the pressures on our youth today. These pressures are leading to higher than ever rates of teen depression, anxiety, cutting/hurting themselves and suicide than any previous generation.

For many us, we gained our first sense of independence with our driver’s license. And along with that independence of new found mobility, came a heightened sense of responsibility. Today’s youth are gaining independence at a much earlier age, and trading responsibility for dopamine – the pleasure neurotransmitter. The more accomplishment, accolades, and likes, the more pleasure – 24/7 without a break. Our systems and activities striving for achievement leading to happiness are failing and leading to a generation overextending themselves and leading to unprecedented pain.

Dr. Suzy Kutsi MD, recently shared her conversation with her child asking the question at age 11, “When can I have my own cellphone?” Her response:

1. When are you not with an adult? A grandparent or teacher is always nearby and able to contact anybody you need to reach.
2. When you are older and may stay at school longer due to other activities we may have a phone with you for safety and transportation.
3. Your phone is our phone and we will charge it in our room at night and it will be available to you at our discretion.
4. Ipads we will use for certain homework activity.

Our Youth. Our Future. We start to manage technology by managing our words. ‘Perfect’ be gone. Welcome home to ‘Doing our Best.’


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