Striving For Excellence and Being a Perfectionist

Mia Wasikowska in Alice in WonderlandMia Wasikowska earned acclaim for her intense performance in the HBO series “In Treatment.”

She played the title role in the Tim Burton movie “Alice in Wonderland,” and noted that at age 20 she was still fairly new to acting, and comments why she left dancing:

“I was at dance school doing about 35 hours practice a week until I was 14. Then ballet started to grate – the whole idea of trying to attain perfection started to ruin the experience, so I decided to try another type of performance.”

From article Mia Wasikowska: My adventures in Tim Burton’s Wonderland.

Excellence can be fueled by perfectionism

Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, Director of the Gifted Development Center, says “Excellence is the hard-won prize of those whose zeal and dedication are fueled by the drive to attain perfection, as they envision it.”

But that drive can affect others – as well as those who experience it.

Director Jane Campion said about working with Nicole Kidman [see profile]: “She can be quite murderously challenging in her perfectionism. Take Twenty: ‘Are you sure that’s good enough?’ We’re going, [wearily] ‘Yeah.'”

Emmy Rossum

A vice and an asset

Emmy Rossum says that for her, being prepared for a role is crucial: “It’s not about control but perfectionism – my biggest vice and one of my biggest assets.” [photo from “The Phantom of the Opera”]

That is a perspective shared by many other talented people.

Michelle Pfeiffer has commented, “I’m a perfectionist, so I can drive myself mad – and other people, too. At the same time, I think that’s one of the reasons I’m successful. Because I really care about what I do. I really want it to be right, and I want it to be good, and I don’t quit until I have to.”

A number of talented and accomplished actors and other creative people are energized – or burdened – by this drive.

Jennifer Connelly has admitted, “I am an obsessive-compulsive and a perfectionist. I don’t say it with pride.”

And Bridget Fonda has said, “I’m afraid of making a mistake. I’m pretty neurotic about it.”

“No, I’m a greatist.”

It’s also a matter of how you think of it.

Director James Cameron refutes being labeled as a perfectionist: “No, I’m a greatist. I only want to do it until it’s great.”

But a drive to be perfect can be an obsessive emotional force that helps fuel insecurity and dissatisfaction with your work, and undermines healthy self esteem.

Jane Fonda – in her memoir My Life So Far – admits to suffering from a destructive aspect: “Because I believed that to be loved I had to be perfect, I moved ‘out of myself’ – my body – early on and have spent much of my life searching to come home… to be embodied.”

So it’s a matter of balance, of using this need to “make it great” to refine yourself, your talents and your work, without being overwhelmed or undermined by it.

> Related :

Perfectionism quotes etc

Perfectionism posts on the High Ability site

Perfectionism articles

Perfectionism articles & books

Article: Perfectionism – by Douglas Eby

Book: When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping With Perfectionism, by Martin M. Antony, Ph.D and Richard P. Swinson, MD.

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Perfectionism and Obsession

Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD thinks obsession is a more or less necessary element of creative achievement – at least the healthy variety of obsession. He says,

“Negative obsessions are a true negative for everyone, but most creators — and all would-be creators — simply aren’t obsessed enough. For an artist, the absence of positive obsessions leads to long periods of blockage, repetitive work that bores the artist himself, and existential ailments of all sorts.”

From my article Positive Obsessions To Be Creative.

But he also notes there are negative obsessions, and other challenges that smart people can experiences, including:

* Distressing states like mania, insomnia, and unproductive obsessing are the natural consequences of a good mind gone racing.

* Living in a society and a world that does more than disparage smartness, that actually silences smart people (because the power and privilege of leaders is undercut by smart people like you pointing out fraud, illogic, and injustice).

* Doing work day after day and year after year that fails to make real use of your brainpower

Why Smart People Hurt class with Eric MaiselHe also writes,

“It certainly isn’t the case that smart people as a group have it harder than other people. Smart people are more suited for and more likely to grab society’s highest-paying jobs, from doctor to academic to stockbroker, and have a better chance at material ease than other people.

“We could name countless ways in which smart people have it easier than, or at least no harder than, other people. Nevertheless smart people encounter many special challenges that can cost them their equanimity, their self-confidence, and their emotional health.”

From his book: Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative.

Eric Maisel, PhD also has a related online course to help people explore and deal with many challenges: Why Smart People Hurt.


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Originally posted 2010-02-07 21:53:00.


  1. willow says

    is it possible for your perfectionsim to scare people away? Like you try so hard for people to love you and in turn it scares them away? I feel like I have always tried very hard, and accomplished some things, but only wanted people to care. However, it seems the people that value me are the ones who see the financial and career success I can help them achieve…never anyone that likes me just because I am a person.

  2. says

    I am a psychotherapist who works primarily with gifted and talented adults including those who don’t realize that what sets them apart from others is often their gifts/talents and potential. Many such adults grow up feeling different in a negative way and often feel embarrassed by their own ambitions. Striving for perfection does not seem to capture fully the experience of the “rage to achieve” and how that affects a gifted person’s sense of themselves on a daily basis. When this “rage to achieve” is satisfied, the individual can be immersed and fulfilled by the work itself, and the striving for perfection is not as imperative.


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