Why you shouldn’t be (or teach your kids to be) perfect

By Darlene Gavron Stevens, LCPC

I was raised to be perfect.

If I had three A’s and a B on my report card (at Northwestern University –freshman year no less) my dad would ask, “How can we get 4 of a kind next time?”

He was a successful man and meant well. But in my work as a therapist, I have learned that perfectionism has an unhealthy side. It keeps us from taking risks. It’s an illusion of safety that isn’t realistic.

We are all human; we will fail and make mistakes sooner or later. The gift of “falling down” is learning how to get up again.

The CEO of Spanx, Sara Blakely, recently posted a video praising failure. She talked eloquently of how her father would gather the family and ask what the children failed at each day. The dad said it indicated the kids were trying, and that was what mattered.

I have failed in my life. I graduated from Northwestern summa cum laude and couldn’t get a job right away, in large part because of the economy. But that adversity eventually propelled me to new, prosperous paths.

In the end, failure can encourage growth in ways that we sometimes don’t realize. I have learned that it’s important not to be too afraid of failure. Here are some reasons why:

  •  You know what your limits are. Failure is a wake-up call to reassess and re-define your role in a situation. What are you learning from your missteps? What resources do you need to improve? Is it time to change course?
  • You understand how you should ask for help. Who can help you learn  or grow from this mistake? What can you do to rectify or at least rebound from the failure? How can you resist making the same mistake again?
  • You goofed, but you are still worthy of self-respect. Recognize and deflect the urge to blame or shame yourself. We are not perfect. In nature, there are beautiful imperfections. Embrace that you are human and capable of simple brain freeze or human errors. At the Chicago Tribune, if we made a reporting error we filled out a report that included the option, “brain lock”.
  • Trust that you are worthy of love, no matter what. This includes inherent self-esteem, not looking to others for validation.

Incidentally, I had wanted this blog to be weekly. I opened my new office September 6 and have been consumed with the details of a start-up business. So I failed in my goal. I’m not perfect. It’s like getting a “B.’’

And that’s more than good. It’s great.


  1. Kari

    Such an awesome post and so true!

    • Darlene

      Glad you liked it!

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