Why Focusing on Being Perfect Leads to Failure

How many times have we tried to hide behind the mask of perfection to cover up our insecurities?

How much have we spent on trying to look perfect in front of friends, family and colleagues to hide the wrong decisions we’ve made in life? What will it take for us to realize that life can never be perfect?

Don’t allow perfection to blindside you like it has for me, for which I’m sharing with you my story.


“If my calculations are correct, my forecast is going to be…”

This was my opening sentence as I was presenting some numbers in a meeting with my team at work. But I was actually pre-empted by a colleague just after I said, “If my calculations are correct” by “But Abigail, there’s been hardly any time when you’ve been wrong” in a jovial manner.

In a corporate setting, being 100% correct is desirable and almost always expected. After all, the numbers make up 80% to 100%, if not totally 100%, of the factors behind decisions that are made. So, if you’re working in an environment where the numbers matter a lot, being correct is good!

However, I was surprised at how I was taken aback by what I heard. It felt like there was a strong gust of wind that wanted to knock me over. I didn’t realize until it was reflected back to me how hard I’ve worked over the years to be perfect in everything that I do. This definitely reflects a lot at work and my colleagues have absolutely witnessed that.

If this happened 10 years ago, I would have absolutely taken what my colleague said as a compliment. At that time, I relied a lot on doing my job perfectly and to a very high standard because I looked at my job as my floating device in life.

You see, I grew up being taught by society and my caregivers that having a job was what was going to make me successful in life. So if I did it really really well, then in my young one-track mind, being really good at my job equated to success.

So I spent majority of my career being technically good at what I do. I asked to go to training. I was very detail-oriented. I ensured every logic stacks up. I checked and double-checked and triple-checked every report I have to submit.

I ensured all my output was perfect and I was proud of myself for it.

That is, until I realized that being really good at my job doesn’t guarantee success.

You see, focusing on perfection means focusing on perfecting my idea. It means I’m doing such a good job at what I’m showcasing, yours doesn’t matter. It means blocking everything you say unless you can show me you’ve done as much work as I have in perfecting mine.

Aiming for perfection means overdoing what I’ve been required to do, which honestly means that I’m doing it to impress you. Because deep down, I’m tying my personal identity to what I can perfectly deliver.

And it doesn’t stop at work. It filters to every part of my life.

I aim to be the perfect mum who gives her daughters all the possible learning opportunities in life, even if it runs them down, pressures them, and overwhelms the family schedule.

I am to be the perfect house-maker who makes sure the house is always spotless and pretty, even when my body really needs to rest.

I am to be the perfect parent who makes sure my family goes on a holiday frequently, even when it’s going to break the bank.

Somewhere during the last 10 years, I became aware of how much energy I was putting towards being perfect in every area of my life. I realized how afraid I was of failing when I was young that I used it as a big crutch as I got older so that I can have the wonderful life I’ve always dreamed of.

But I missed the plot.

Because I was so focused on not failing, I missed a lot of life’s true experiences.

Like how my daughter learned to make dances on her own but I only focused on sharing how great she is on social media. Like how my other daughter struggles to learn math but I was only disappointed at how low her grades are.

Like how much my daughters love to make a cubby house out of chairs and tables and blankets and pillows but I only see it as big blob of mess. Like how my family simply wants to play a round of cards but I don’t see there’s any time for that during our perfect holiday.

And I did fail miserably.

News of a daughter being bullied at school. A partnership that was very unsupportive. A work environment that pushes and pushes until I have nothing left to give. Having a health condition that limited what I can eat and do because I ran my body to the ground.

My life showed me I was focusing on the wrong things, even when I thought I wasn’t.

For the first time, I shifted the focus back to me, instead of external appearances.

I had to reflect on what I truly wanted my life to be.

What do I really value in life? I value belonging, freedom, connection, caring for my family, being a good person.

What makes my life worthwhile? The joyful moments. The moments when I’ve helped someone. Feeling loved unconditionally.

What do I want to feel everyday when I wake up? Hopeful. Excited. A can-do attitude.

How can I ensure I don’t lose the plot again? By taking care of me first, living my life aligned to my values, and coming back to these whenever I slip up.

I had to re-learn doing life again. If I stood up again and again after I fell when I was learning to walk as a child, I can find ways to get back on my feet when I experience failure in life.

Failing doesn’t mean I’m the failure. Failing means I’ve been given a learning experience. If I didn’t fail, I wouldn’t have found other ways to live life, I wouldn’t have learned of what I forgot to consider, I wouldn’t have known of other perspectives.

And if my calculations are not correct, please let me know how I could have done it instead or how I could have done it better. What can you see that I don’t? What should I have considered that wasn’t in my periphery to do so?

And if my calculations are not correct, please do help me grow from this experience.

My self-worth isn’t tied to what I can do for others, what I can show or what I have. I can have all the good things in life simply because I’m here and we all get to have a go at it.

Don’t get me wrong, I do wish to be successful in life. But unlike 10 years ago, I don’t measure success in terms of what’s perfect in my life. In fact, I don’t measure it anymore. I experience it instead.

I experience success in the unconditional love I feel when my daughters give me a hug. I experience success in the open-hearted conversations I have with my partner now. I experience success in the Thank You’s I receive from my colleagues who feel supported by me. I experience success in the quiet moments when I’m flooded with awe and gratitude for how far I’ve come in life.

So you see, I feel I’m already successful right now. Because my idea of success is in the wonderful moments that life gives me. Even when they’re messy and imperfect.


This article was previously published on Rebelle Society.

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