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Why the Search for Perfection After 60 Is the Enemy of Getting Things Done

By Douglas Winslow Cooper August 28, 2022 Mindset

You are often faced with deciding whether what you’ve got is good enough.

Does nothing less than perfection satisfy you? Do you only give yourself permission to act when all the stars are aligned? This could be in business, romance, shopping, home selection or education.

This boils down to whether you are an “optimizer” or a “satisfier.” Should you demand perfection or settle for something less? Does “close” count only in pitching horseshoes, and hand grenades?

The Paralyzing Power of Too Many Choices

Having more options seems better than having fewer. That is, until you go to the grocery store and find a dizzying array of similar products. It’s not just at the grocery store that we have a glut of choices. Prosperity and technological progress have opened a myriad number of doors. Once closed, they are now open for us to explore.

Swarthmore College professor Barry Schwartz ascribes the explosive increase in depression in the U.S. partly to the tyranny of too many choices. Freedom with responsibility means we fear making the wrong choice. We feel the impact of failure more sharply. Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre ironically wrote, “Man is condemned to be free.” Woman, too.

The book Supersurvivors describes research showing that the more investment options offered to employees, the smaller percentage of them end up investing in their company-subsidized 401(k) plans. This is called “analysis paralysis.” Inactivity is the outcome of having too many choices. Here are some examples of how the search for perfection relates to common life choices.

Finding Mr. Right

One high-stakes decision is whom to marry. Dating gives you a set of options. You can stop dating and marry one of them. It may be easy to compare the one you married with the others, but what about those you might have met if you had kept on dating?

Should you wait for Mr. Right or settle for Mr. Almost-Right? How good is the current set of candidates? How many more opportunities are you likely to have? If you must have the absolute best, you’ll never know whether you have met him. You are doomed to be dissatisfied.

Deciding on the Best Job

As with finding Mr. Right, finding the best job or choosing the right career is a challenge, with limited options and limited information. Employer and employee have only partial information about each other, so there is a certain amount of risk. Once you take the job, the employer will likely be somewhat surprised and so will you. Hopefully, the surprises will be mostly pleasant. At some point in the decision making process you have to say the job is “close enough.”

Too Many Options, So Little Time

Pursuing the best option is often made difficult by the sheer number of choices. Add to that a lack of knowledge about the present and future, with a large number of aspects to be considered.

Yes, we are told that for real estate it’s simply “location, location, location.” But even here, “location” can mean distance from work, distance from school, neighborhood amenities, sources of noise, transportation facilities, and elements of natural beauty. We can overthink these things to the point of paralysis.

If you are lucky, one choice will be as good as or better than all the others and you will rightly choose it. The more you analyze, the harder the choice becomes.

Making a Choice That You Are Satisfied With

When you must choose, recognize that perfection is nearly impossible to obtain. This is true especially when you have limited options, information, time, or money. Then, once you have made the choice, try to be satisfied with your selection. If the decision was hard, there was probably little difference among the finalists. You made the right choice.

Have you been too choosy and lost a good opportunity? Have you settled when you should have held out longer? Do you find it hard to complete projects because nothing less than perfect will satisfy you? Please join the conversation below.

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Mary Lou
I finally purchased a  mattress after a year of procrastinating. What stress I created for myself.  Helpful article!

I know I will be moving to a new state in a few years. In the meantime time I have started looking at real estate. This has given me practice decisions, older house located with some stairs and narrow hallway or newer construction with open floor plan. As I consider future options it becomes easier to dismiss lovely homes that don’t fit my plans. I consider these practice decisions give me clarity as to what will be perfect enough for me.


I agree!!! Where are you moving to? I am in the same process. I am also downsizing possessions, to be ready and lighter when I find my next home


This is excellent advice. Often, the hard part about taking action in your life is making the decision as to what action you want to take! Once you make that decision you can devise the steps needed to carry it out.


I love this article and talk to my community about this all of the time! I encourage them to take some sort of action. Even if it’s messy. We learn by doing! I’m going to share this article on my FB page. Thanks so much!

The Author

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D. is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes and helps others write and publish their books, via Douglas's life's central theme has been a half-century romance with his wife Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis, who receives 24/7 nursing care at home. Visit his website here

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