Don’t Let Perfection Lead to Failure

One of the things I find that gets in the way of people’s success, or even progress, when it comes to getting organized, it’s perfectionism. I know; it sounds odd: If someone is a perfectionist, wouldn’t she or he already be organized?  

But that’s not the kind of a perfectionist I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind that finds the pursuit of a perfect solution to be impossible and unachievable, that they become paralyzed, or take no action at all. Their internal voices say: 

It won’t work as well as I want it to, so why bother?

But it has to look just like the magazine. If it doesn’t, it’s not worth it.

Well, I couldn’t possibly be as good as *that person* does this, so why should I even try?

I don’t want to start this project until I’m positive I can deal with anything that can go wrong.”

I don’t want to make the wrong choice. But since I can’t assure that, I won’t make any choices.

I can’t launch my business until I have a business plan. And a logo. And a website. And business cards.” 

It isn’t enough to just send an e-mail to thank that person. I need to send a hand-written note. But I don’t have nice stationery right now… So I just shouldn’t bother if it’s not going to be as nice as I want it to be.” 

My neighbors have had me over for dinner, and I want to return the favor, but my house isn’t presentable. When I get new furniture, I’ll return the favor.” 

“I can’t really go through that pile of papers until I know exactly what my filing system will look like. I’ve been researching different approaches to it, though. I’ll keep researching, and then maybe buy some things that may help. THEN I’ll look through the paper.”

I want to donate these clothes, but I want to make sure that someone really worthy will be able to use it. I don’t want to just donate at the thrift shop down the street because I can’t be sure it’s going the BEST place possible. I’ll leave it here until I find the right place.” 


image from

image from



“Perfect is the enemy of the good.”

This is what we say today, but the concept has been around and referenced for centuries. It is an old Italian proverb, Il meglio è nemico del bene (“The best/better is enemy of the good”), from the early 1600’s. It was popularized by Voltaire in the late 1700’s: Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien, Dit que le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (“In his writings, a wise Italian says that the best is the enemy of good.”) Heck, even Confucius is quoted as saying “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without”” Why do I share these fun facts? To highlight the idea that this has been a natural phenomenon for people for ages, in multiple cultures. The struggle is real.

It means that trying to make something “perfect”, or believing that it must be, can get in the way of actually achieving “good” things, perfectly fine things, all the time.  We don’t move forward with anything because we can’t imagine doing it without achieving EVERYTHING. 

Does this ever sound like you? It’s not as easy as saying, “Hey! Just settle!” I know. But here are a few tactics to keep in mind that might help you move a LITTLE forward, and achieve progress and success far more often than you experience paralysis and lack of action: 

  • Define what “good enough” would look like. What are the minimum “must-haves” for this project, not the “love-to-haves”? 
  • What are the milestones in the project? How can you break it down so that you can move forward with each step, before getting to a more challenging one?
  • What are the small actions you could take that would help you experiment with the risk of “good enough” Send the email after just one draft? Share a proposal without all the kinks worked out, in order to get valuable feedback before it’s fully baked? 
  • Find moments of *satisfaction*. Recognize progress can come on a slope, not a plateau. Be sure to take moments to evaluate what you HAVE achieved, and experience the pride that comes from having achieved despite the presence of perfection.
  • Think about your audience, or whomever is benefitting from receiving your efforts. Would they rather SOMETHING than nothing? Would they truly judge you if it wasn’t perfect, or would they be happy to receive what you have to share now?
  • Find humor! One of the phrases I like to use all the time is, “Well, we’ll just put the finishing touches on this room right before the photo shoot for the magazine cover.” Drawing attention to the perspective of the situation can help, and doing it with humor can diffuse the frustration that people feel when they’re struggling against their own nature. 
  • Notice when you’re doing this to yourself, or ask a trusted friend to be honest with you and call you out on it. When you’re self-sabotaging, remind yourself not to let Perfect Be The Enemy Of The Good. 






  1. Autumn Leopold

    Great post Kathy! I love,”Define what “good enough” would look like. What are the minimum “must-haves” for this project, not the “love-to-haves”? This is something we can all relate to! Especially going shopping for the project it’s so easy to get distracted! I can see where taking the time to define these is super beneficial to the end result.

    • clevergirlorg

      Thanks, Autumn!

  2. Janet Barclay

    Wow, this is very timely for me! With your encouragement, I think I’ll be launching my new program sooner, rather than later. Thank you!

    • clevergirlorg

      *I* inspired, *you*, Janet? Well, that just makes my day! I’m so used to you being the inspiring one in this relationship 🙂 So glad this one spoke to you!

  3. Rhonda Holzhauser

    This is a great article and very helpful as a reminder for those of us who work as professional organizers. It is our job to remind our clients that the end product doesn’t mean a magazine layout style room. The end goal should be a functional, comfortable room that helps our clients live the lifestyle they desire. Thank you for your insights.

  4. Liana George

    As a struggling perfectionist I can totally relate to EVERYTHING you talked about! You set out some really great tips that are helpful and useful. Great post!


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