Stop Aiming for Perfection: Can You Let Good Enough Be Good Enough?

Ready to Receive

“Good enough is the new perfect.” ~Becky Beaupre Gillespie

The music started. Pachelbel’s Canon in D on harp and flute. I was supposed to enter the room near the end of the piece.

I knew there were fourteen sets of four measures each, but in my nervous state I quickly lost track. I picked a random moment in the music that I thought might be near the end (surely I’d been waiting forever already), opened the door, and walked in.

Then: BAM!

The door startled me by suddenly slamming shut behind me. Oops… That was not supposed to happen.

Thus started my recent wedding, with the bride oh-so inelegantly slamming a door.

Then, uh-oh, I heard my dad stumble over a note on his flute. And when I got to my designated spot by my groom and our officiants, I realized—oops—I had entered way too early. We all had to stand there awkwardly while the piece played on for what seemed like ages.

Twenty years ago, at my first wedding, this stuttering start probably would have horrified me. This time, thank goodness, things were different.

Instead of being horrified that my perfect day was being ruined, I just beamed. My heart swelled that my parents, who get so nervous playing for a rapt audience, were the ones sharing their music with us. I giggled as my groom and I mimed flirting with each other while the music played, and everyone else laughed along.

All the “mistakes” were part of the fun and specialness of the day.

Twenty years before, when I got married the first time, I was a card-holding Perfectionist with a capital P. I sought out the best string quartet, the best photographer, the best caterer, the best florist, the best makeup artist.

When my custom-made gown (made by the best seamstress) didn’t turn out exactly the way I wanted (read: perfect), I feared the world might end.

Oh, yes, I was one of those brides. I admit it. The sad fact is that I was a perfectionist about the wedding because some desperate, scared, insecure part of me unconsciously believed that if the wedding were perfect, maybe it would somehow fix my flawed relationship and make it okay.

If the wedding were perfect, maybe my life would be good enough.

As you may already have gleaned, from the fact that there was a second wedding, this isn’t how things worked out.

That first wedding was perfect. Or, at least, darn near close to it. And this, not surprisingly, did nothing to save what was ultimately a doomed marriage.

Yet for years I still hid behind a perfectionist mask, believing that if I only showed my shiny highlight reel with the world, and never revealed the messy, broken, confused, imperfect self underneath, somehow my life would be good.

It was the continuation of a lifetime of perfectionism.

When I was in school, happiness seemed to depend on getting straight A’s.

As a newlywed, happiness seemed to depend on the perfect, beautiful home.

Then, as I started exploring the world of art and calligraphy, and gradually grew a small business from my creative work, happiness still seemed to depend on keeping up a shiny, perfect front.

I did my best to hide my flaws and mistakes. And as my marriage disintegrated, I focused even more intently on achieving perfection in my work.

But of course, true perfection is not possible, so all of this seeking of happiness through perfection only left me miserable.

I became too scared of imperfection to try anything. My creative flow dried up.

Who can create anything when only “perfect” is considered good enough?

I suspect the ultimate collapse of my marriage played a big part in getting me on the road to recovering perfectionism. A divorce makes it very hard to pretend to the world that everything is perfect.

And once you acknowledge that you aren’t perfect, that your life isn’t perfect after all, you no longer have to keep up the charade. Suddenly, it becomes acceptable to simply be you, in all your glorious imperfection.

Letting go of a lifetime of perfectionism is not easy. Like recovering from alcoholism, I see it as an ongoing pursuit, and I consider myself a recovering perfectionist.

Now, though, instead of aiming for perfection, I intentionally embrace imperfection. I proudly call myself an Imperfectionist with a capital I!

I’ve learned the hard way that when I wait until something is perfect before I can try it or share it with the world, I stay permanently stuck in perfectionist paralysis.

Whether building a website, learning to sing, asking someone out on a date, broaching that difficult conversation, putting a new product on the market, or anything else, the only way to move forward in life is to allow yourself to be imperfect.

Plus, embracing imperfection is just a kinder, gentler way to live. I haven’t given up on my quest for excellence, but I’m a strong believer that going for “good enough” leads to a lot more happiness than going for “perfect.”

This was certainly true when, twenty years after my first wedding, fifteen years after that “perfect” marriage ended in divorce, I said “I do” a second time.

This time around, instead of seeking out a passel of the best wedding vendors, we aimed for “good enough.”

I knew that the marriage was the truly important thing, while the wedding was merely a small entertainment we were doing because it gave us pleasure, and because it gave our families pleasure, which in turn gave us pleasure.

Freed from my perfectionist paralysis, I even wrote a song to sing at the ceremony, as a surprise for my new husband. I’d started writing it a few years before, but had never managed to finish. Perhaps I’d been trying to make it perfect?

Now, though, I had a new goal: not a perfect song, but simply a complete song—a good enough song.

I also had a deadline, and deadlines are magical things, especially when combined with imperfectionism.

I did complete my “good enough” song and I surprised my groom with it, right before our officiant officially declared us married. Like my dad on the flute, I was a bit nervous. My voice wasn’t the absolute best it’s ever been, and I messed up one of the chords.

And you know what? It was perfect.

Where can you let go of “perfect” in your life, and replace it with “good enough”?

Photo by AJ Leon

About Melissa Dinwiddie

Melissa Dinwiddie helps people turn their creative taps to "on," and transform their lives from grey to full color. She blogs and podcasts at Living a Creative Life, where you can get a FREE printable poster of her 5 reminders of why creative play is a world-changing act.

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