Get used to imperfection

The quest for perfection is frustrating and exhausting.

And it’s completely unnecessary.

I am a recovering perfectionist. It’s only natural that I would be. After all, that’s what I was conditioned for just like many of you were.

I learned early on that love, acceptance, and praise all followed perfection. The more perfect, self-sufficient and accommodating I could be, the more I felt loved.

I learned to seek praise and reward because that meant I’d done a good job and the fact that I’d done a good job and made someone happy meant that I would get to experience the feelings of being loved.

At least, that’s how I laid down the tracks of logic in my young brain.

And like the rickety old railroad tracks in the neighborhood I grew up in, those tracks stayed in use for a very long time.

I still occasionally catch myself on a crazy train going down those tracks. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often and I catch myself and get off of it much faster these days.

Now, don’t misunderstand here… I DO so love turning out perfection and it’s still what I strive for most often but here’s some of what I’ve learned along the way…

  1. Perfect is a subjective term. What I might call perfect may not be what another calls it and vice versa.
  2. Perfect can be a hindrance. If I have something great to contribute to the world in some way, if I wait for perfect, I may never get it out but if I let it fly when it’s good enough, it can be helping others while I continue to polish it up or I may see how it was actually perfect as is even though I couldn’t see it until I saw others using it.
  3. Perfect isn’t worth it. It’s true, many people don’t appreciate perfect. They’re just as happy with good enough as they would have been with perfect – they can’t even tell the difference – so there’s no point in working your fingers to the bones — as the Hoyt Axton song goes, “Work your fingers to the bone – whadda ya get? Boney Fingers – Boney Fing-gers” (in case you want to hear that it is an actual song, you can listen here, but be forewarned, you might start talking with a twang and the tune may never leave your brain). Bottom line, you don’t get extra praise or recognition, you just get boney fingers.
  4. Perfect is an excuse for procrastination. You may rationalize and justify but the fact remains that you’re not doing the work that gets you to done.
  5. Perfect is exhausting. It causes us to hold ourselves to a different standard than we hold others to and because we do this, we can never seem to keep up.
  6. Perfect will get in the way of you living your best life. I once worked with a young woman who built herself a multimillion dollar business turning out courses and material that were so far from perfect that it caused me anxiety whenever I worked on it. I didn’t want anyone to know I was involved at all because it was so sloppy in my opinion – but guess what? That opinion was not shared by her clients who just couldn’t get enough of her stuff – they loved her, they loved her work and she’s raking in the dough and living her dream life while I’m being all judge-y and critical.
  7. Perfect stands in the way of you doing a little better. And a little better can make a big difference. This is especially true when it comes to your lifestyle and decisions about your health and this is the area where I really see it hold people back. I talk to people all the time who want to eat better but know they’ll never stick with the plan so they never start. Then there are people who want to start exercising but know they’ll slack off so again, they never begin. My advice is to just start somewhere and grant yourself the grace that comes with being human. We all have good days and bad days and it’s ok, just do your best, giving it what you can day by day and moment by moment. Don’t feel like you have to be perfect once you start. If you mess up, let it go and get back on track with your next step.

While I don’t have any miraculous cures for instantly overcoming perfectionism, I do have some advice for you. First, read through the ways listed above that your quest for perfect may be holding you back. See if any resonate with you. For any that do, simply see if you can loosen your grip a little in that area.

It can also help to arm yourself with some check in questions like…

  1. Is this good enough, or can I let it be?
  2. Am I just procrastinating here?
  3. What am I afraid of by letting this go now or as is?

And finally, I’ll leave you with some powerful words spoken by a venture capitalist here in Boulder, he said (and I’ve paraphrased a little)…

You can’t let perfectionism paralyze you. Considering we no longer live in an age where the natives will kill you and eat you if you mess up, what’s the worse that can happen? You’ll figure out what needs to be better and you’ll do that. Your audience can actually help you get closer to perfect, if you’ll let them.

When you’re able to let go of the drive for perfectionism, you’ll relax into the journey of your life and begin to enjoy the ride a bit more.

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