The impossible quest for perfection

NunFor a short time growing up I wanted to be a nun. There was something about their piousness that fed my perfectionist tendencies – my need to always be good and loving. But in fourth grade at Catholic school one of my teachers was a yelling, patronizing nun so my notion that habit-clad women were perfect quickly evaporated. Besides that, I liked boys. So, I married my soul mate and became an etiquette consultant instead. Yes, it took me more than 40 years to do so, but I think there was something about the yearning to be perfect and good that still called to me.

However, much to my dismay and sometime embarrassment, there is no perfect. Just like my fourth grade teacher was not perfectly pious, neither am I perfectly polite. I occasionally swear, have sent emails with overlooked errors and I am not always gracious, especially when I’m upset. I have been late to meetings, sometimes struggle making small talk and I don’t always remember names. I have my faults and make my share of mistakes. Sure, I am probably more aware of them because I am an etiquette consultant, and that definitely adds to the pressure to be flawless.

But, when I’m able to stop judging myself for not being perfect I remember that etiquette is not about being faultless. It is about being the best person you can be and feeling comfortable handling social and business situations. Most importantly, it is about being a kind, courteous person.

I am always learning and my mistakes sometimes make the best stories when I am giving a corporate training or coaching a client. They also keep me humble.

So, if you forget to introduce someone, use someone’s bread plate or gossip about your caustic coworker, don’t beat yourself up. Forgive yourself, learn from your mistakes, and strive to do better next time. That’s my mantra and I’m sticking to it.


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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. BethBuelow on August 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Arden, this is one of the many things I admire about you: you aren’t perfect!
    And you don’t pretend to be. I love your reminder that at the end of the
    day, cultivating good etiquette habits is about being kind to one
    another. It’s about making this harsh world a gentler place, one with
    more grace and less self-centeredness. If I happen to use the right fork
    along the way, great :-)… but it’s more important that I’m being
    courteous to whomever I happen to be dining with. You are always a model
    of that grace for me, and for many others, I know. Thank you for that, and for this marvelous post!

  2. ArdenClise on August 26, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    BethBuelow That’s so funny you wanted to be a nun as well. Something about that pious lifestyle.

    Thank you for your kind words. I hope that I always inspire people to be their polite selves but not to try to be perfect. What’s great about knowing which fork to use or how to handle a situation with a loud coworker is it makes us more comfortable and confident in those situations. But, if we don’t know those things and are just good, kind people, that’s a beautiful thing too.

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