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Apr 2021

Unproven Tips from a Recovering Perfectionist

8 min read

It’s time to ditch perfection and live your purpose! Here are four actionable tips for overcoming your perfectionist ways.

“So what would you say is your biggest weakness?”

“I’m a perfectionist,” I awkwardly smiled, praying it was the right answer to the dreaded (and expected) interview question for my first high school mall job at Claire’s.

It’s the one response that we think cryptically sends the message, “I’m just SO detail-oriented and OCD that you don’t have to worry about me screwing off in the break room eating Cool Ranch Doritos while T9 texting.” Yea, we are talking circa 1999.

But for me, “I’m a perfectionist” really meant, “I’m-scared-of-life-and-avoid-doing-anything-that-matters-because-I’m-worried-it-won’t-be-perfect-and-people-won’t-like-me.”

The panic was real.

Fun caveat: I am SUCH a “perfectionist” that I managed to STAPLE my latex glove to the back of a baby’s ear. #earpiercingfail

Why do we insist on being perfect?

The answer is pretty simple: fear.

It’s about our need for approval and the fear that it won’t come…especially when we are doing something that matters deeply to us.

couple on tropical island

Keri Cooper

I’m guessing that fear has stolen a heck of a lot of happiness and peace from you, in its’ virtuous and destructive path.

You’ve probably said “no” to that collaborative photography project or an epic wedding opportunity because you simply didn’t think you were good enough.

Or that somehow, @insecurejerkface927 on Instagram will see your work and criticize it.

So you decline, take a deep breath, and then tell yourself it was for the best.

…but a part of your soul is disappointed. 

wedding couple

Keri Cooper

“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Perfectionism can also tend to look and feel JUST like procrastination.

Sound familiar?

The MINUTE you put that pressure on yourself to be perfect, you are using valuable energy that could be better spent…I don’t know, like being fabulous.

And then what do you do when you feel overwhelmed?

You pick up your phone and watch an ultimately useless YouTube video on “how to get overnight beach waves,” while avoiding the ONE THING YOU ACTUALLY WANT TO DO.

My hair NEVER turns out like they say it will. 


Keri Cooper

Step #1: Embrace the fear

Let’s just get this out of the way, YOU WILL FAIL. Your amazing visions of photographic genius will often not pan out as you had hoped.

We absolutely hate it. The judgment, the self-deprecating BS we tell ourselves, the shame, the hurt. Let me just remind you that most of this scrutiny is coming FROM YOU.

exchanging vows

Keri Cooper

In fact, the fear of potential failure often stops people from even STARTING work on a project, which in itself can feel TOTALLY paralyzing. 

So maybe next time, grant yourself (and your friend Fear) a little grace.

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

The next time you fail (whatever that may look like), ask yourself what you can learn about yourself from that failure. There is ALWAYS insight to be gained.

  • Did it trigger a painful memory or emotion?
  • How did you handle the disappointment?
  • Can you help others from making the same mistake?

Step #2: Let go of the end result

Isn’t life more fun when you are actively a part of the journey? It would lack a little luster if we sat down on day one with our new camera, photographed a rare Hawaiian Crow, and ended up on the cover of National Geographic. It would be cool, but it doesn’t work out that way for 99.99999% of us.

The fun is in looking back on all those old s@*# photos (and having a good laugh)!

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

Let the process unfold (insert suspenseful music montage)! Just take the first step and say “yes” to something. You will figure out the rest as it comes, I promise!

In turn, our energy is spent on the process and not the debilitating anxiety of the end result.

A good image gifted to a client NOW is way more useful than a perfect photo that was never taken!

couple on beach

Keri Cooper

Step #3: Have a heart-to-heart with your fear when it shows up

I’m actually being serious. Have a calm, cool, and collected conversation with your fear the next time it pops in for an unexpected visit (much like my inlaws).

“Hey, I know you’re scared, but what are you scared of exactly?”

(You’ll feel weird about it every time, don’t worry.)

But you’ll be surprised at all the insight to be gained when you truly open up and talk to yourself about your fear.

#ShootProofPRO Tip:

If you want to dive more into this concept of inviting your fear in for a chat, listen to this talk from Elizabeth Gilbert.

It’s so good that I’ve replayed it over 10 times. 

Step #4: REMEMBER YOU ARE MAGIC (I’m yelling)

It’s your responsibility to live that magic.

When you gently acknowledge your fear, you create the space to remember that you have the chance to impact your clients in a meaningful way. That fear can no longer make decisions for you because it simply doesn’t have the same grip and momentum.

Thank your fear for trying to protect you from pain, and send it off with a gentle “see you later.” Because you WILL see it later.

wedding couple

Keri Cooper

You don’t need to be perfect in order for people to like you, or for your work to make a positive impact on a client (and the world).

In fact (and this is just a personal opinion), I think we appreciate people more WHEN THEY AREN’T PERFECT…because being imperfect is more genuine than seeing all those flawlessly curated photos on Instagram. Yack.

You owe it to yourself to do the inner work. In turn, clients and the world will also reap the benefits.


Keri Cooper

I love you. I believe in you. And I KNOW you are perfect just as you are.

-A fellow perfectionist

Written by KELLY ACS | Photographs by KERI COOPER via Two Bright Lights


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