Because when our expectations for everything being perfect don’t match up with reality (and honestly — do they ever match up?
Quick question. What would happen if in some Star Trek/Dr. Who plot come true, we all, as a civilization, woke up one morning and the neural circuits of perfectionism — the ones that have us tearing our hair out every time things don’t turn out precisely to the “t” how we pictured — vanished without a trace, peacefully, in our sleep? Yes I know, nit-pickers, with the different time zones there is not just one universal “morning” and we’d all wake up at different times, and it would be more of a staggered start to this living-without-perfectionism thing, but hey, you’re missing the point.
If we re-routed our unrelenting pursuit of an air-brushed existence from which no one wins and everyone suffers, would civilization as we know it come to a screeching halt? Or, would we, in fact, freed from the shackles of perfection-paralysis, benefit from a wider view of possibilities on how to make things. better?
Wait — make things better? Isn’t the perfectionist the very person for the job of improving things? Isn’t that what perfectionism is all about? Won’t we all become apathetic slackers if we were to let go of our perfectionistic ideals?
No. The opposite of perfection isn’t imperfection or mediocrity; it’s reality. It’s possibility. It’s all the magnificent points that exist all around the bull’s eye. When psychologists suggest striving for excellence over striving for perfection, they are not trying to take away our ambitions, drive, and desires to succeed, they are trying to preserve our sanity and keep us in the game. ), we blame ourselves and give up. Or get stuck. We can’t regroup from the hitches. How do we get moving again? We can be the moving part: Reality won’t budge, but our expectations can. We are lowering the stakes of what it means when things don’t go as planned, rather than lowering the standards of what matters to us. This is how we create true working space.
Working with reality — the mistakes, flaws, hiccups and wrinkles — gives us the information we need not only to persevere, but to start again more effectively. This is how we succeed. So instead of concluding: “That didn’t work at all!” We could think: “That didn’t work yet,” or, “Some of that worked, and some of that didn’t, what’s my next step?” Yes, reality can be messy, and progress can be slow, and attempts can fail and people can need to go back to the drawing board, but if these are the givens of life, as unassailable as the physical properties of space and time, we are going to be more resilient and successful if we expect the hiccups and are prepared for their appearance, rather than experience them as a surprise each time. We might not succeed in the big way we imagine right away, but hanging in through the process, this is how we strive for excellence over time.
So when we embark on a new project, instead of falling into the lure and trap of perfectionism, thinking “this will be the time when everything turns out right,” we can do ourselves a favor and decide that flaws or glitches — rather than being a detour, something that shouldn’t have happened– are a given. Here are some strategies for how to keep reality in your game plan:
If our inner-perfectionist were cheering us on from the sidelines, that would be one thing, but when it’s a rant not a cheer and it sounds like: “This isn’t right, this isn’t good enough, what are you even thinking with that??” we need to pull the plug — not on the project, but on the perfectionist. To counteract those negative messages, get the facts. Ask yourself different questions and really answer them: What is working? What are you enjoying? What is the purpose of what you are doing? Are you meeting that purpose? Or, if things aren’t working so well, don’t give up — ask yourself why it isn’t working. Maybe this is a clue about where you need to head next.