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The Perfect Compromise. How Self-Compassion Released Me from a Perfectionist’s Nightmare!

The Perfect Compromise. How Self-Compassion Released Me from a Perfectionist’s Nightmare!

When my wife first expressed an interest in creating a new pathway in our front yard, my immediate response was: “That’s a great idea – I’ll save us some money and do it myself!” I love yard work. I enjoy being outdoors and working hard to keep things looking good. Being a perfectionist, my preparation for the job was pretty intense. Many hours were spent measuring, designing, and re-measuring, and after a few weeks of back and forth over dinner, we eventually landed on a design we were happy with. A few trips to a leading DIY store later, I was ready to go, and so began the journey to what I’ve now called “The Perfect Compromise”.

I haven’t yet explained that the yard is on a hillside. The land slopes towards the house, losing around 0.75ft of height as it does so (great for drainage), and has a retaining wall around half of the yard that joins to a brick patio area. The design meant I needed to run the pathway off the brick patio across the yard in the same direction as the retaining wall using eleven 24x24inch slabs, and I felt comfortable that it would look good if I made sure that the pathway was straight, using the first slab as the marker.

How wrong I was! After laying the third slab I realized that the path would veer too far left on its current trajectory and would look very strange from certain viewpoints. I also realized that no two straight lines with the wall and patio area were the same, meaning that however I laid the path it wouldn’t be straight with either the wall or the patio, and when you add in the effect of the slope and the fact that the yard is longer at one end than it is the other, this was quickly becoming a perfectionist’s nightmare! I found myself in that perfect storm where nothing seemed right, no matter which way I looked at it, and getting the job to a standard that I would be happy with seemed like it would be illusive. I began to get more and more frustrated, giving myself a hard time for not finding a solution, when suddenly I found myself able to become mindful of the situation.

Enter self-compassion!

I’m not sure of the exact trigger, but I quickly realized that no matter how I laid the path, it wouldn’t be perfect, and that I would need to find a happy compromise due to the issues illustrated above. As you are likely aware, even thinking the word “compromise” is enough to send most perfectionists reaching for a stiff drink, so I was pleased to add further evidence to my growing list of proof that applying self-compassion to difficult perfectionistic situations was a good thing to do (as if I needed any persuading!). Rightly or wrongly, I decided that trying to keep the path in a completely straight line would actually create a bigger problem. Irrespective of whether each slab was completely straight with the one laid previously or not, finding a happy medium from all sides seemed to be the best way forward, and after further inspection of the work already done, I decided to start again. Here’s where things got crazy – I hope you’re sitting down! I decided to lay all eleven slabs using only my eye to gauge distance instead of using a tape measure. Yep, you read that correctly! I actually bought into the idea that “perfection” would be better achieved without trying to be overly accurate. Insane, right?! Well, as it turns out – not at all!

I laid each slab looking at each one from as many angles as possible. Due to my tendency to over analyze, I tried to go with my gut reaction of what looked good or not when I first looked at it, not spending too much time considering things in finer detail. I told myself that my decision wasn’t permanent and while it would take longer, I could always re-do what I’d done, and went to work.

Here’s the result.


Looks pretty good, right?

As you may notice, there’s a slight curve from left to right as you look down the path. This is to help the path’s appearance from the kitchen window, which looks down over the path. What looks straight from the bricked area doesn’t look straight from the kitchen, but it’s in a position so as to appear straight from both positions – as much as possible, anyway!

So, what was the key to the situation turning from a nightmare to a success? It took me a while to connect with it, but I later realized it was acceptance. By accepting that perfection wasn’t ever going to be achieved in that situation, by me or anyone else, I was able to become clear minded enough to look at the problem through a different lens. What might have been a very uncomfortable task even a few months ago now felt pretty easy due to this acceptance, and the pathway and yard look great to the extent that we’ve had plenty of nice comments from the neighbors.

Acceptance as part of a growth mindset was the key to being able to transform what might have been a stressful situation into something that is more than manageable. Although I know it’s not completely perfect, I’m able to let it go, and that’s a considerable step forward to a healthier existence!

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by Julian Reeve // JULIAN REEVE’s high standards propelled him to the top 1% of his industry as music director of the Broadway hit Hamilton. Today, he is an in-demand perfectionism consultant, speaker, and author. His new book is Captain Perfection & the Secret of Self-Compassion: A Self-Help Book for the Young Perfectionist. Visit for more information on self-compassion and other perfectionism solutions.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.