Why perfectionists in medicine need to practice compassion

Our perfectionism is often worn like a badge of honor. It signifies our complete commitment, at times at the expense of others. Wanting to do your best job is what drives “good” perfectionism. Woody Allen quipped, “80 percent of life is just showing up.” And the other 20 percent is reserved for perfectionists.

Success often comes from attention to detail, something perfectionists know about. Just ask, and you may get more than you bargained for. The key to keeping the urge in check is to recognize that such striving can take its toll on us. As an example, consider successful modern cataract and lens implant surgery. Painless, and with the rapid return of vision so common, it becomes the thrill of victory for the surgeon, the drug of choice. Expectations are so high for both surgeon and patient that when all goes extremely well, we begin to take such surgical success for granted. We get hooked on the patients’ adoration and thrive on homemade baked goods delivered to our offices personally by grateful patients. Every patient that went to that extent of gratitude deserved a thank you note from me. I gave away most of the baklava to the techs.

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