Perfectionism – Good or Evil?

Many of our clients at iCadenza are classical musicians. 

When we train as classical musicians, we cultivate perfection

We aim to perfect all the notes, rhythms, dynamics, and tuning. 

We aim for perfection right up until the concert, when we run out of time. There is a built-in stopper to our perfectionism, so we never learn how to turn it off. 

We don’t know when to utilize our perfectionism and when to set it aside in situations where it holds us back. 

This is especially true with anything important to us. Music is what musicians are most passionate about – and we’ve been trained to prepare our music perfectly.

So when something comes along that’s important to us…perfectionism seems to come along for the ride – whether it makes sense for the task at hand or not. 


There is a term in business called the ROI. Return On Investment. What do you get for the time spent on something? 

If it’s something like memorizing and performing a fiendishly difficult concerto – you get a good ROI for the hours and hours of investment. If you haven’t prepared to virtual perfection – you could have a disaster onstage! 

Wednesday night dinner? Not so much. After a certain number of minutes or hours fussing over a weeknight recipe, it’s just not worth that much time. 


Here is a list of things that have to be regularly managed in the music business and don’t benefit from hundreds of hours of preparation….

  • Sending an email follow-up
  • Condensing a biography from 3 paragraphs to 1
  • Setting up a ticket page
  • Etc, etc, etc

The list goes on and on. Tasks of easy, medium, and high difficulty. Tasks that take 10 minutes, 2 hours, or a few days. 

Over and over again I see classical musicians get stuck, looking for the perfect email follow-up. But that task just doesn’t benefit from perfectionism. 

The perfectionist habit has become a monster that is eating away at your life! What can you do? 


In researching this article, I hoped to find a list of hacks. 

I wanted to find easy-to-try exercises or rules that would banish perfectionism and I found…nothing very effective. 

It’s been the same over many years of coaching clients that struggle with perfectionism that gets in their way. 

I’ve suggested hacks like… 

  1. Set a calendar deadline 
  2. Set a regular time of day to do this work 
  3. Set up regular meetings with an accountability buddy 

These ideas are somewhat effective, some of the time. Some work better than others for different people but…

If you really struggle with perfectionism, it is probably a deeply ingrained habit and way of thinking that won’t shift easily with a hack or new system. 

I’m sorry. I really did want to find an easy answer. 

So, barring easy…here are some ideas for digging deep on when perfectionism doesn’t serve you and learning, slowly and over time, that not everything you do needs to be perfect. 


If you begin at the very outset of a task, aiming for a good result – not a perfect one – but a serviceable one, this can be helpful. 

For example, my goal is…

  1. For this email campaign to get a response from a few recipients by the second follow-up. 
  2. For this lesson flier to make it clear that I am offering private lessons and how to contact me. 
  3. For this social media post to let my followers know something (mildly) interesting about my work. 

In other words, you’re aiming for “Good Enough.” 

You are aiming for the serviceable and workable. 

This is not the strategy you will employ to learn tight-rope walking and then trying it without a net. This is a strategy for the everyday business of being an artist and contacting others about your work. 


Don’t stay alone in front of your computer screen staring at that email draft! 

If you know you struggle with perfectionism you have a problem with perspective

You have trouble seeing how good something needs to be vs. how good something is now. 

So…phone a friend! 

Get some perspective. Show your draft to a trusted friend or colleague who can give you realistic, helpful feedback. 

(Quick hint – It may take a few tries to find the right person. Some people will make you doubt yourself more!)


In some ways the opposite of “This has to be perfect” and “I have to be perfect” is…

“I am learning and growing every day.” 

We can come to every task, every practice session, every new challenge with the attitude of a beginner… “I am going to try to learn and grow as I go.” 

This may be a major mindset shift for you but cultivating an open-minded, learning attitude – with fun, humor, and above all gentleness with yourself – is a powerful way to get unstuck. This allows you to move with freedom through your life and work. 


Have you had a big mindset shift or change in the way you do things that has helped you banish perfectionism (at least some of the time)? 

Share what works for you and help others in the iCadenza Community. Let’s work together to find ways to overcome the perfectionism that is holding us back.

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