There’s definitely a clear mismatch between the cliched advice that either urges us to “aim for perfect” or “just do your best”…
If we have any perfectionist tendencies at all, at some point “our best” may not match the “perfect” we’re seeking, and that let down could lead to a sense of defeat and a subconscious blow to our self esteem.
I’d much rather these phrases be updated to “do better – aim high but let go of perfection, and, if you need a break, take the time you need to recharge and adapt your goal to the reality of whatever your situation may be”. That is much too long to be a real cliche – but wouldn’t it be nice if the standard advice encouraged us to be as imperfect as we need to be?
I do think it is fully possible to aspire to excel while accepting and embracing our imperfections. If we were to let go of the perfection of what we should have been or think we should be, and let ourselves settle into and embrace the messy and glorious imperfection of who we actually are, then we can work on accomplishing those bigger goals from a place of strength and self worth.
Some of the challenges with perfectionist tendencies are:
- We’re always waiting for perfect to be happy. If we get that raise or promotion at work, get a particular grade for a class, purchase that particular thing..etc..etc..then we’ll be happy. A problem with this is that the goal post keeps moving. Why not, instead, decide to aim for happiness while in the process of living well and doing good things and have those “perfec outcomes be an added bonus instead of the goal?
- The simplest of decisions can lead to analysis paralysis. I’ve often noticed my own perfectionist tendencies when I need to make a more expensive purchase . I’ll pore through Amazon reviews, Consumer Reports comparisons and articles on the subject as if I’m working meticulously on a life-changing research project. This is a good idea but with caveats. I have to at some point accept something that will do what I need it to do without being absolutely perfect.
- It is harder to pivot and change direction if we’re aiming for perfect. Sometimes we do fail. A particular direction in life is not the right one for us for any number of reasons – none of them related to our worth. If we keep trying to push through on what isn’t working for us, we won’t be able to see the forest for the trees – or clearly see that this particular goal needs to be adapted to something that is holistically better for us.
- It is harder to be discerning about where we should maximize our efforts and where to scale back. If we’re trying to be perfect in every area of our lives, we lose the ability to strive for excellent in the areas most important to us while accepting being “just okay” in others. This is where burnout also makes its appearance. We can’t aim to do everything perfectly at all times.
- We project our version of “perfect” to the world rather than being our own authentic, quirky, ever so human selves. It is much harder to build connection if people don’t see us as we are – plus, there is not as much joy in perfection as there is in being our fully imperfect and beautiful selves .
I think it is good to let go sometimes.
What are your thoughts on aiming for perfect vs. aiming for better?