Perfectionism, Procrastination, and Perspicacity

Are you terrified of failure and mortified by mediocrity?

Do people tell you that you’re smart but you know that they’re delusional?

Does your worthiness depend on your achievements?

Are you spooked by success?

Welcome to the perplexing world of the rainforest mind. And to your constant companion–Perfectionism. 

Here’s the thing. If you were really precocious as a child, you may have received lots of praise for your achievements. Which may have felt great at the time. But it also gave you the message that being smart was everything. Including the reason you were loved. Not helpful in the long run.

And if, in school, you didn’t have to study. You knew the material before it was taught. Then, you came to believe that smartness meant that learning always comes easily. Not helpful in the long run.

And if— Simple mistakes are total failures. You expect yourself to know how to do all things really really well. And you have very high standards that you never reach.

Then–You know that it will become clear to everyone in the multiverse that you aren’t so smart after all. You’re an impostor.

And yet–If it does, somehow, in spite of you, become clear to everyone in the multiverse that you ARE smart, well, that’s not the answer either. So much pressure to keep up the ruse. Way too much pressure.

What the heck do you do?

You procrastinate, of course. It’s the ideal plan. If you wait until the last minute and you don’t achieve greatness, you can blame it on the lack of time. And you dodge the humiliation bullet. For the moment.

What else do you do?

You don’t try anything if you aren’t guaranteed a win.

You’re paralyzed by the blank page.

You join the circus.

The truth: You thought this was all due to your neurotic obsessive-compulsive not-so-bright personhood. But now you know.

It’s your rainforest mind.


Note to blogEEs (formerly known as readers): There is a healthy kind of perfectionism. Tune in to a future post to find out more.

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

30 responses to “Perfectionism, Procrastination, and Perspicacity”

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  1. Are You A Driven Perfectionist In A Slacker World? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] or because you have to prove your worth. Or both.” If it’s unworthiness, it’s unhealthy perfectionism. You can thank your dysfunctional family for that. Your therapist can help you detach your sense of […]

  2.  Avatar

    No one has ever understood my feelings that at any moment everyone will realize that I have been duping them. That I just pretend to be smart. This fear of finding out that I am an imposter kept me, an AP honor roll student, from taking the SATs in high school and, as a consequence, going to university. I eventually took the SATs and did well. I’m just as successful as my school mates, if not better than average. If only I had read this 20 years ago.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s never to late to understand the complexities of your giftedness and then go where you need to go. I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Genealogy Jen Avatar
    Genealogy Jen

    Numbers 37 and 39 of My 40 fears…Paula, they are totally related to this and Impostor Syndrome. Thanks for linking to this article. Lots to process…

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  8. nikkicholo Avatar

    ….Well this just summed up my life.

    Frequently praised as a child for high marks in school (reading at a fifth grade level in first grade, getting straight A’s without studying, etc.) Couple that with getting punished for receiving a B in school because “I could do better,” when my sisters were getting C’s and even D’s and going without punishment because that was par for the course for them. Consequently, anything less than perfect results in my anxiety sky-rocketing. I stopped pursuing engineering because I got a B in Calculus. (I now have an MSc in Evolution of Language and Cognition, but what of it? I work as a teller at a credit union, I do not see this as something “great”).

    Procrastination is beautiful. “If I fail, it isn’t because I’m stupid, it’s because I didn’t put in the proper amount of time. It isn’t a reflection on my intelligence, just on my organizational skills.” (It’s not like I have the proper amount of time these days anyway, I keep my schedule full, probably to distract myself.) Procrastination is a wonderful form of self-protection. A professor once called it “obscuring the ceiling.”

    Over the years my inability to maintain “perfect standards” and keep up with the expectations that everyone placed upon me resulted in a strict need for control and punishment, self-inflicted in the form of self-harm. My self-worth is judged by my success, of which there has been none lately (if I’m so smart, why am I working part time at an entry level position?)

    I have always believed I would do great things, be great, have a great degree and a smart career, but reality has not met my expectations. I do not have that great job that everyone expected me to have when I graduated college, and so I am worthless, taking up space, and see no value in my life.

    Your post has been very eye-opening; I’m looking forward to reading more.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I like that– “obscuring the ceiling.” I hope you’ll find other posts helpful and that the blog will help you understand why you aren’t yet seeing value in your life and will give you support in how you might get there.

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  11. Munchkin Avatar

    I have an ‘all or nothing’ problem that seems to border on OCD. For me, the perfectionism rings clearest in my writing. Yet even in things like doing dishes and picking up the house, I don’t know when to stop. I get overwhelmed so easily seeing everything that needs to be done, and it’s never enough. I actually told my other half that there might be times when he needs to tell me to just stop. In the past four years, he’s done wonders helping me… as long as he’s with me while we’re doing it >.< I'm still a horrible procrastinator, and more often than not it translates into laziness. I've come a long way, but there's still so far to go.

    I think this might also be my problem with seeking a college education. It kind of links right back to the previous blog.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Did you see my recommendation for the book Procrastination by Burka and Yuen? It might help. It’s quite good.

  12. Genie Cortez Avatar
    Genie Cortez

    I also feel that part of procastenating may be due to guarding our real beliefs about ourselves…we guard our negative core believes by devising ways to protect it by not putting ourselves in risk taking situations that may put us in a position of not protecting something we don’t want to see.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Hi Genie. I agree that procrastination can be a tactic to avoid something deeper that we don’t want to face. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Gary Higbee Avatar
    Gary Higbee

    Thank you for your great posts Paula. I really like the rich information, presented with clarity and humor.

    This 3-P’s post, however has me adding a fourth P – (a bit) Perplexed. In school I did need to study, I didn’t know the material first. School was not easy, being at school was not easy. Until college I didn’t want to “study” any more than absolutely necessary to survive the ordeal.

    I quit school many times, starting in elementary. I wanted to enjoy more time roaming the woods and exploring the ocean, reveling in investigations of wonderment. Vastly more interesting than listening to someone drone on in a hot room with flickering blue-white fluorescent lights, reading “See Spot run, run Spot run,” while the real world waved in the trees outside.

    Thoughts on ease of learning, school, interests, how to deal with those “must do” tasks we may not be interested in?

    Again, thanks for your great blog and it’s very helpful to read the comments of others and your responses. Feels like an evolving community of kin!

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks for your thoughts, Gary. For many highly sensitive, creative and gifted individuals, school can be an “ordeal” if teachers and parents don’t recognize their abilities, depth and sensitivities. It sounds like that was the case for you. There was so much more going on in your mind and heart beyond “see spot run.” Your sense of wonder and your connection to nature are both typical characteristics in the rainforest-minded. I would suggest that you DO learn easily outside the confines of the typical classroom and that you have multiple interests in more complex concepts than are typically addressed there. School may have been much too limiting for your big mind and your kind heart. Would you agree?

      I hope to address the “must do” tasks in a later blog post. That’s also a challenge for the lover of mental-emotional-spiritual complexity. Welcome to your community of kin.

  14. Ann Avatar

    Your concise clear descriptions hit home and encourage me to examine my tthinking and beliefs. Here’s to one step closer to a healthier self.
    Thank you

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      My pleasure, Ann.

  15. faithinangels Avatar

    Dead on!!! You have been the cause of great healing for me, and for my daughter, parents and sister. Seeing this has helped us understand ourselves, and my daughter is ending her 10 year estrangement with me. She is will now understand herself better, just like me,, and knowing it is how we are wired, a huge relief. Thank you, so much for this one…. I’ve stopped hating myself. Healing an entire family….. you are a gift!

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Wow. Thank you.

  16. Erik Groomer Avatar
    Erik Groomer

    Hi Paula,
    My wife sent me this post and I have to admit that she’s right about it representing how I tend to think and operate. My curiosity is piqued. Where do we go from here?

    You said, “Join the circus”; I’m curious about what you mean by that. Would this fit: Abandoning a full scholarship in music to work in the woods because I was tired of people telling me how good I was, when I knew that I was rubbish.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Yes! Yes! Erik. Oh, I have so much to say to you. Will try and contain it. When I write about “healthy” perfectionism, I’ll address what you say here about the discrepancy between what people told you about your music and what you felt about it. (Yes, “join the circus” will mean different things to different people.) The whole perfectionism issue is complicated. You might look for the books Procrastination by Burka and Yuen and The Gifted Adult by Jacobsen for more information. I’m working on a book right now on gifted adults but it’s still a work in progress. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. (and thanks to your wife)

      1. Erik Groomer Avatar
        Erik Groomer

        I will look for the books you mentioned. Thanks for your reply and I would certainly welcome more dialog. Why try and contain it? 😉

        Also, have you found that Carol Dweck’s, “Mindset” is worth considering in relation to the “Rainforest Mind”? Reading her description of “Fixed Mindset” and its connection to perfectionism seemed to resonate with me. And it also went some way towards understanding my procrastination tendencies.

        1. paulaprober Avatar

          Hi Erik. I hope this gets to you. For some reason there’s no reply icon after your second comment. Yes, I like Dweck’s material on mindsets. I think much of it makes sense for gifted kids and adults. I’m glad that you’ve found it to be helpful.

  17. Kamala Quale Avatar
    Kamala Quale

    I love this one, Paula. Your style is very engaging and I look forward to the next one.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks, Kamala.

  18. Jade Rivera Avatar
    Jade Rivera

    Oh Paula, where have you been all my life? Your straight-talk coupled with compassion inspires me to make some serious changes in perspective. Thank you

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks for your feedback, Jade. I’m so glad to be of service.

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