“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” This saying is my 2019 mantra and a lesson I’ve been struggling with as of late. In my personal life and in my career, the question “If I can’t do it perfectly, why do it at all?” has been my first thought when tackling new projects or taking on new opportunities. Worry and self doubt lead to scattered thoughts and the inability to decide or act. This year, I’m saying “screw it” and doing it anyway. And so, ladies and gentlemen, in my first act of unabashed imperfection, I bring you, this blog post.
First, let’s define what “perfectionism” means to me. Webster defines it as “the condition, state or quality of being as free, or as free as possible from all flaws or defects.” Essentially, being perfect is the exact opposite of being human. When I read this definition, I think of those people who have kitchen floors you could eat off of (In truth, you could eat of my kitchen floor too, but only because there’s enough food down there to feed a small army. But I digress…) Perfectionism is, by my definition, “the debilitating and unrealistic expectation that your actions and words will be free of error.” As it turns out, that’s a fairly difficult thing to achieve.
“Perfectionism is fear in good shoes. ” Elizabeth Gilbert says it best. Perfectionism in the form of fear is, in my opinion, a form of self-inflicted mental torture. Trying to eat healthy? Forget it. You ate that brownie last week and now all is lost. Might as well eat an entire brownie pan with a full vat of ice cream to go with it. Want to ask for a raise? Nope. You goofed up that presentation 6 months ago and have certainly said something to suggest you’re a mere mortal in the time since. Just stop while you’re ahead. Oh, and being a parent? Out of the question. Because of your glaring imperfections, you’re bound to birth a tiny demon who will no doubt go on to be a complete burden on society.
Obviously I’m being dramatic, but the effect of perfectionistic thinking is exactly this kind of nonsensical naysaying. Yet, they are part of many people’s lives every single day. So, what do we do about it? Here are a few things that have helped me:
In middle school, I desperately wanted to be like the most popular girl in school (we’ll call her Melinda) Melinda was pretty, popular, always well dressed and put together. I, on the other hand had enough metal in my mouth to power an edison bulb, and was still letting my mom cut my hair (not well, I might add). Melinda was mean, but I just felt lucky she talked to me. Looking back, I see that looking up to Melinda was a mistake. I’m now a well adjusted adult with a husband, a good job and a mortgage. Melinda is
living with her mom in Calabasas, working as an escort. I’m sure there are other lessons here, but let’s just say I’d rather be compared to my own standards of excellence.
Comparing myself to the old me has been much more fulfilling and a better indicator of success. Instead of letting defeat and bruised self confidence push me into an an anxiety-ridden hole, I now accept that I’m just better at some things than others. It wasn’t until my mid twenties (I wish I were kidding) that I realized I have gifts and abilities that some people literally pray for. I have to work harder at some things, and that’s ok (In fact, I’ve learned to love it when people tell me I can’t do something. Just
ask my husband) I also embrace the chance to learn something new and challenging because I have finally met, and become good friends with, my inner-badass.
Having mentors has changed just about every aspect of my life. The way I look at the world has drastically shifted, and therefore I behave completely differently than I did years ago. Having someone to “walk ahead” of you in your career, your relationships and your path to growth, is something you can’t put a price on. Mentors also show you that perfection isn’t a prerequisite for success. In fact, success is only possible when you aren’t perfect, and feel free to try new things and make a few mistakes. Luckily,
having a mentor helps make those mistakes a little less painful, and helps you see areas you can improve before you ever know to look for them.
Find people that will help define your OWN success, and only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. At the end of the day, the focus should be progress, and not perfection.
This blog was reposted with permission from Natalie Rettig. The original can be found here.