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Let Go of Perfectionism: It’s the Leap That Counts

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” ~Proverb

I’m a “recovering perfectionist.”

I make perfect plans. At times, when I’m really working on my plans, I forget to live my actual life.  Because I’m planning. Perfectly.

I had my first strategic plan when I was 10.

“Be a really, really good girl. Then, when you are 16, borrow the car and say that you are going to Drug Fair to buy hairspray. Instead, drive the 15 minutes to your daddy’s house so that he’ll want you back.”

A year later I had to revise my first strategic plan. My alcoholic father died.

Here was the second plan:

“Now you’re all alone.” (Which wasn’t true, by the way. It just felt that way. Anyway, back to the plan.)  “Now you’re all alone. Be perfect.”

In the first plan, I just had to be “good” to be rescued.  In the second one, there was no rescue.

I needed to be perfect.

(Perfectionism Myth #1 Perfection will keep you safe.) 

That plan “worked” for a while. I had started playing the flute the year my father died. My great grandmother told me not to cry and upset my mother. That was okay. Perfect people don’t cry.

(Perfectionism Myth #2:  Perfection is a way to manage hard feelings.) 

Perfect people practice.

I practiced perfectly enough to get a music scholarship. I practiced so long and so well they let me keep that scholarship even though I switched to the business school.

(Perfectionism Truth: Perfection translates into real money.) 

I was a perfect marketing major—the “first in your class” kind. The carry 23-credit hours, while playing first chair in the orchestra and being on the board of student government kind.

I was working my perfect plan perfectly.

But there was one problem.

It wasn’t sustainable. And I certainly wasn’t happy.

As I look back on my experience in those years, I see that I needed to keep ratcheting up my performance levels to get the same “fix” of safety from my perfectionism. I used accomplishments as an anesthetic from life—from my fears and sorrows.

And I had long since forgotten why I was doing what I was doing.

Instead of enjoying my accomplishments as landmarks of my journey, I was pursuing perfectionism for its own sake. It was my way of life.

But here’s the thing, Sweet Cheeks. Perfectionism doesn’t keep you “safe.” It exhausts you.

Perfectionism doesn’t help you handle difficult feelings.  It actually complicates the grieving process.

Perfect planning does not guarantee perfect outcomes.

If you are stuck in the endless “ratcheting up” of your game, it might be time to take a step back from your life and make sure that where you’re headed is where you want to go. Otherwise, you may make the mistake that best-selling author Stephen Covey so brilliantly outlined in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

You climb and climb the “ladder of success” only to find that when you reach the top, it’s leaning on the wrong wall.

Today, instead of “planning” my life, I have adopted a new approach that makes me a lot happier.

1. I plan as an artist would approach a canvas—in “broad strokes.”

My plans are simple outlines of my vision. I make only a rough sketch of what I hope to accomplish. When you over-plan, you can’t allow for magic, whimsy, or inspiration.

Broad Stroke Planning allows me to be nimble and flexible. It also enables me to take advantage of unforeseen gifts, insights, and opportunities as I move forward.

2. I take lots of actions and let go of all results. 

Here I take a lesson from my former career in sales. Good sales people see the selling “cycle” as a “pipeline” that moves a prospect along the process toward the close.

The process begins at “first contact,” then a follow-up call. If that goes well, you set up a meeting, then you have the appointment, then you make your proposal, and some of those proposals—a very few—will result in the sale.

At the outset, you don’t know which “first contacts” will make it all the way to the end of the pipeline.  But you don’t have to know which will close, because you do know that a certain percent always do.

Amateurs look at the “back end” of the pipeline and worry, fret, and manage outcomes. Rock stars manage the front-end of the pipeline. They take lots and lots of actions, and almost ignore the results.

Remember, a certain percent will always work out.  Your job is to take action after action after action.  The results take care of themselves.

3. I absolutely insist on enjoying life.

Life is happening in the present. Right now. (Oops, were you distracted just then?  Sorry, you missed it.)  Plans are for the future.

Thus, to enjoy my life today, I must be present to my beautiful journey, even as I am working toward a longer-term goal. Yoga, fresh air, art, laughter, joy, friends, family, beautiful suppers help me to enjoy the moments, even as I take those “front-end actions” toward my vision.

Stay in touch with your beautiful now while you raise your gaze, from time to time, to your glorious future.

So make your beautiful plan, but don’t spend your whole life at the drawing board. Make a sketch and then get up, get out, and live your beautiful dream.

It’s the leap that counts. Not the landing.

It’s the leap that counts. Not the results.

It’s the leap that counts. Not what anyone who sees you take flight thinks about your journey.

It’s the leap that counts.

And remember, when you stand at the edge of the cliff and leap into your new dream, one of two things will happen.

Either you will be caught by the hand of grace. Or, you will grow wings and fly!

Photo by Justin Hee

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About Jennifer Boykin

Jennifer Boykin helps women recapture their Mid-Life Mojo. She speaks and writes as the Creative Visionary and Chief Rabble-Rouser of the MidLife Reinvention site, Life After Tampons. As of TODAY, Jennifer has launched registration her first small-group workshop, Craft Your Comeback. Learn more HERE.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • urooj shahid

    Lovely Post :)

  • Kyah

    Your writing style is vivid, clear, crisp, so enjoyable. Your message is equally wonderful. Thank you.

  • Lv2terp

    This is a wonderful post!!! Thank you for sharing your vulnerability, experience, and wisdom!!! :)

  • Refinnej

    Great post. I’m a recovering perfectionist too and it’s a hard thing to let go of. My own perfectionism actually strongly contributed to an eating disorder (eating “perfectly,” it turns out, is not so good for you…) that led me into a deep hole I am just now beginning to climb out of. It’s a daily struggle to let go of the need to perform, but a most worthy one. Trying to keep so many balls in the air is exhausting. I have to remind myself constantly to let go, breathe, and relax. The world will keep on turning, and I will not fall apart if every little task is not accomplished “perfectly.” In fact, I’m probably much more likely to fall apart if they are.

  • Melisa

    “And remember, when you stand at the edge of the cliff and leap into your new dream, one of two things will happen.
    Either you will be caught by the hand of grace. Or, you will grow wings and fly!”
    This got to me! I loved it. Thanks a lot for this post, it is beautiful!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103242814 Jennifer Boykin

    Thank you, love.  I have to keep reminding myself not to forget to remember that I already know this stuff, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103242814 Jennifer Boykin

    Yep.  And have some fun, too!!!  We gotta work on that.  Ha!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103242814 Jennifer Boykin

    You are so welcome, love!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103242814 Jennifer Boykin

    Well, Kyah, what a love you are!   We can thank Ms. Barbra Schultz for my “vivid, clear, crisp, and enjoyable” writing style — 11th and 12th grade Honor’s English. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103242814 Jennifer Boykin

    Thank you, love.

  • Vlad

    Wow! Great post! Even though I’m not a perfectionist, I can certainly relate to what you’ve said about using extreme behaviors such as perfectionism as a crutch. The same can be said about overworking, overeating, extreme dieting, dating, etc… We can cling on to the weirdest things in hopes of security. When all the while, it’s the letting go, that liberates.

    Leaping into a dream – yeah I like that! Thank you for this post.

    Vlad

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1103242814 Jennifer Boykin

    Thank you, Vlad.  This was my favorite part of your message:  “When all the while, it’s the letting go, that liberates.”

    Indeed.

  • S P

    Very insightful and beautifully written – thanks so much for sharing, Jennifer, I hope you continue!

  • Becky

    Wow! This struck a cord. Just what I needed today. I’m currently making changes in my own life that some members of my achievement centric family don’t understand. They see my leap as quitting/giving up, not a small step toward a new and different life. To read that you “insist on enjoying life” made me pump my fist and shout YES! So, thank you.

  • http://ponder-the-pre.posterous.com Kate Britt

    Those are great steps toward change, Jennifer. I can see these ideas in what you do online with your new website and in everything you write. 

    Back in the days when everybody was wearing those pin-on buttons with short statements on them, a particular pin jumped out at me and demanded that I adopt it. (I put it here for you to see: http://ibritt.com/images/noMoreLittleMissPerfect.jpg . My “No more Little Miss Perfect” pin took front and center on my office bulletin board for years. The message has seeped into my mind and heart over time, until one day I realized that perfectionism is no longer leading my way.

    Similar to your “it’s the leap that counts, not the results”, mine is “it’s the process that counts, not the product”. It works to the same end. Perfectionism is hard to let go of, but once we do, life becomes much more interesting and fun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1346654978 Carin Kiphart

    lots of action and let go of results is brilliant…..

    feeding the front end of the pipeline can be exhausting and especially when the results don’t come fast and furious it can be depressing.  Sometimes it feels like simply spinning the wheels but I get it…

  • jr cline
  • Catherine

    Wow, thank you. I was trying to be a perfectionist on how my two girls live their lives. After my husband died, I thought it was my job to direct them to choose wise choices. Yes and no. The first daughter, a recovering perfectionist, did everything according to a parents plan, college, fulbright, masters, great partner. Second daughter, high school senior choose dance captain, college bond, but very alternative friends and boyfriend. Her choices were not what I wanted for her. She strayed from the plan. Wow, I tried to control the situation but to no prevail. Unfortunately it damaged our relationship! Hopefully in time it will repair. Let go and let God.

  • Marion

    I am sitting here in my ‘lounge’ room where there is no space in which to lounge!! Yet somehow my youngest son has found some. He sits across from me at the dining table curled up on a (cleared) couch occasionally scratching ( a possible flea bite!), playing a car game on a game console. He is 16 and so beautiful. He is tired from a night out with friends and at the tender age of 16 is in the aftermath of a 2 year relationship . I ‘should’ and slowly am cleaning a ‘re arranging the lounge/whole house’ mess,(of 24 years worth of hurt accumulation) but the weather is cool and we are a little in the mood to hibernate and what is one more day after weeks and weeks of ‘re arrange mess. Here we are, being together, yet communicating globally!

  • http://halinagoldstein.com/blog halinagold

    I love this post!  It’s perfect. Sorry (about the “perfect” remark), but it really is, to me. I mean it!

  • Feroza

    Jennifer, every word, every line in your post resonated with me. Especially your last line. Around twenty-five years ago I look two leaps of faith. One gave me wings and for the other it has only been the hand of grace that rescued me. I couldn’t see too clearly when I was lost in the tunnel, but now I do recognize that.

    As I turn 50 tomorrow and am on the precipice of taking two more leaps of faith I hope to grow wings and soar.

    Thank you for your wonderful post.

  • http://www.delcusay.com/ Del Cusay

    This is a great post! In my life, I’ve learned not to aspire for perfection, but rather excellence. When we do things excellently, success follows.