“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” ~Robert H. Schuller
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by perfectionism? Would you rather not do something if you can’t be sure it will be perfect? Although this kind of thinking doesn’t make much sense, I understand it, because I’ve been there.
I’d like to share with you some insights that helped me overcome my own deeply ingrained perfectionism and the unhappiness and stagnation it caused me.
Avoiding perfectionism doesn’t mean avoiding quality work and high achievement.
I am someone who loves making sure that even the smallest details of my work are right, and that the work I deliver lives up to my highest standards.
I used to think that the opposite of perfectionism was doing sloppy work, so I tried that for a while, but it really didn’t sit well with me. I don’t know about you, but I like to do something well and make it good quality work, and doing something less than that makes me feel bad.
If giving your best is what you do naturally, then doing something only half as well as you could just to avoid the trap of perfectionism isn’t going to help you. Trying this has always made me feel stressed because I was going against my nature and because I didn’t like the work I produced. So what to do?
Who defines your “perfect”?
I think perfectionism is really fear of being judged by others. It’s actually likely that others will judge us for what we do and say, but in most cases, we can get over it because it’s not so bad—or because we have to.
However, a perfectionist never looks to compassionate and wise people and imagines how they might judge them! For example, when I am writing a new blog post, I never think of what my grandmother or the Dalai Lama would say about it. (It would probably be something like, “It’s wonderful that you express yourself creatively and try to help others at the same time!”)
Instead, the people I have in mind are the cynical journalists whose articles I read (which is really my own fault) and the mean and angry people who post anonymous insults in online newspaper forums. I’m pretty sure they would actually hate what I have to say, but why do I pick them as my internal jury?
This internal process is what I call destructive perfectionism, because it’s a way in which we beat ourselves up and possibly feel so stifled that we never even start our work, or never dare show it to anyone.
Constructive perfectionism is the fuel you need to move forward.
Destructive perfectionism stops you in your tracks. Constructive perfectionism allows you to start and do your best—even if a year from now you find it amateurish. That’s how great things get done; you have to start somewhere and work your way up.
I started getting into strength training, movement art, and gymnastics over a year ago because I wanted to move as capably, strongly, and gracefully as the movement teachers I admire. I soon found that achieving this in a short time frame was highly unrealistic, meaning: For a long time I looked and felt more like an elephant doing gymnastics than an actual movement artist.
But the vision of what is possible kept me going, and now I am a far better and stronger mover than when I started, even though I am miles away from what I want to achieve. If I had given up after one attempt because it wasn’t perfect, I’d still be a couch potato!
In my journey away from perfectionism, I also stopped beating myself up and driving myself so far that I came by several injuries, and started enjoying the movement and the small progress I made every day.
Maybe I will never reach the kind of athletic ability and grace that I long for, but I am enjoying the process so much and doing my health a big favor. So I hope you take this to heart and start enjoying yourself by doing what you love and giving it your best.
Life is too short to miss out on the pleasure of doing something well just because others might judge you or you might not get it right. As they say: Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
Photo by Helga Weber