Pursuit of Perfection

Perfectionism can be debilitating. We know that extreme pursuit of "perfection" is associated with body image issues, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression. Whether it is associated with ADHD, autistic traits, or something else, I have an impulse towards perfectionism.

Parents and educators know that autistic children often insist on perfect order. There is a desire to have a perfect schedule. There are also forms of perfectionism among autistics. I've met autistic adults unable to tolerate the slightest factual errors relating to their special interests. There is a desire for accuracy, clarity, and completeness. Anything less causes emotional, and physical, anxiety. I dislike factual errors intensely.

Being a perfectionist and being a teacher can conflict. Grading papers can descend into a "sand trap" where I want to correct every error. Students would never read or recall all the comments I would make on papers given sufficient time. Yet, that is a minor complication.

Perfectionism can cause an emotional and intellectual paralysis, or it can lead to an obsessive attempt to correct flaws. Either response consumes time and energy, often with minimal benefits.

We admire Amish craftsmen willing to spend hours refining woodwork. We appreciate the chef demanding perfection of her recipes and plating. There's something very human about admiring the men and women who do achieve near-perfection in any area. But, most of us are much further from that perfection we admire.

A serious problem for me is that I want everyday projects to be perfect.

I want no flaws in the woodwork, the flooring, or the paint in our house. I still hate the flaws from our renovations in Minneapolis. Our new house has flaws I want to fix because they bother me so deeply. Minor imperfections in painting are the most troubling, for some reason. I hate the mistakes and wish we could get edges and corners perfectly straight and true.

This is a good reason to seek out materials and textures with irregularities — then the "flaws" aren't flaws at all.

I am going to spend hours fixing some flaws in our house. Last night, I couldn't stop obsessing about the need for a perfect surface for a projection screen. The instructions state that the wall must be "perfectly smooth" before applying the special paint. Perfection won't be possible, but I'll spend hours trying to smooth the surface because I want the screen to be right.

The overload I experience from my unfinished to-do list is a symptom of the desire to be perfect when it comes to productivity. I know not every minute of the day can be productive, yet it bothers me that I don't produce the amount of work I consider ideal. Why can't I do more with each day? It must be because my time is imperfectly used. Realistically, there is no way to accomplish what I expect of myself… and that frustrates me.

Some people suggest that aiming for perfectionism can clear the mind. Maybe it can, but only if you also accept that it isn't attainable.


  1. You'd hate my house, it's a renovator's nightmare. It's been neglected and I admit I've only repaired what I have had to since it is not ours.

    When my second one was dx'd the Dev Ped asked me if I routined my house for the first. At the time the first was "autistic", mild PDD was the dx, speech and education delayed. Now he "passes for normal".

    I said "No". She agreed. I think that is the worst thing they have ever told parents to do. We have a few "habits" that they have built over the years and sometimes they come back to haunt us but we're not stuck in them. Oh, they complain, but they cope. I've had to break the clock watching habit for both although the younger keeps trying to go back to it. I've ground my teeth and rolled my eyes more than once at the school system when they tell me "but he's so routined"... You did that, not me. You didn't listen to me. Life changes every minute, you can't control it, you can't routine it, you have to live with it. It's hard, but we all have to learn to "go with the flow" sometimes. Wouldn't it be easier to learn to do so as a child, not an adult??


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