On the outside, the pursuit of perfection looks like a maze you could solve any day now, until the moment you realize the puzzle is rigged, the rules are ridiculous and it was a trap all along.
In the name of perfection, we hide our flaws at all costs and sacrifice our full potential.
Examining the twisted logic of flawlessness brings a powerful appreciation for the wisdom of imperfection.
Imagine if a child waited until he was a perfect bike rider before getting on the saddle, or if an aspiring French speaker refused to speak until he or she could do so mistake free? It’s nearly impossible, but we too often put these unrealistic constraints on ourselves as human beings who are constantly acquiring skills.
We learn this absurd dance at a young age: the first time somebody laughs at our mistakes. It becomes quickly clear that perfect is the goal — perfect test scores, perfect teeth, perfect family.
The freedom that comes from putting that narrative on mute moves us to embrace all that our imperfect selves have to give.
Growth over Perfection
Forever a learner
Being a leader, a business owner or a mentor has little to do with perfection. Call to mind some individuals that inspire you. Of all the wonderful adjectives you would use to describe them, is perfect one of them? Probably not.
However, when is the last time you heard a CEO or Prime Minister admit that they are still learning and apologize for a mistake. It’s a rare sight in the world of leadership. With any luck, it could eventually be a way out of the blame games we witness every time we turn on the television.
You are always a student, never a master. You have to keep moving forward.
– Conrad Hall, cinematographer
So if perfection is not a prerequisite for greatness — for taking steps forward in your life and career — then what’s stopping you?
The goal is not to achieve perfection, it is to form a healthy relationship imperfection.
If you have always wanted to become a yoga teacher but are waiting until you master every pose and look like a yoga clothing model, you are wasting valuable time.
Get out there and embrace your new identity as teacher and student. Ultimately, we are both: imperfect learners and teachers with knowledge to share and room to grow.
Doing over Dreaming
Finished is better than perfect
Examining the startup world reminds us that perfection and productivity are mutually exclusive. The impossible notion of flawlessness squashes creativity, action and intuition. Startup founders recognize the importance of action, quick failure and a flexible response. When racing to get a product to market they cannot afford to obsess over perfection. Doing so could be the difference between success and bankruptcy.
While this is common knowledge among business moguls, mainstream society worships perfection, or an on-trend image that defines perfection today: fit, rich, charismatic, bullet proof. Being a perfectionist is worn as a badge of honor, no matter how destructive it may be.
Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.
– Mark Twain
Dreaming can be fun, but it also can look a whole lot like something else: procrastination.
Consider if the to-do lists, spreadsheets, flow charts, emails, day dreams are propelling you forward (they could be) or just delaying the inevitable: picking up the phone and calling a potential client, distributor or estranged parent.
Improvement comes through doing, not dreaming. It’s simple logic that a bus driver will complete his route more smoothly the hundredth time than the first. Yet, somehow we complicate that truth.
Human beings can adapt like no other species. We design tools and lifestyles to meet our realities. While it might not always be a beautiful sight, our ability to absorb and learn is thankfully unavoidable. Trust in your flexible mind and inherent ability to grow.
Connection over Admiration
Be real, not perfect
Striving for perfection is the opposite of embracing vulnerability. Showing, acknowledging and shining a light on our imperfections epitomizes vulnerability and fosters connection.
In fact, upholding the pretense of perfection, which deep down we all know doesn’t exist, creates distance and alienation. Who would you admire more: someone who confidently recognizes their own flaws with a bit of self-compassion and humor; or someone who strives to hide and ignore their flaws?
Worry about your character. Not your reputation.
– John Wooden
Connecting is a two-way street and admiration is not earned without giving.
Perfectionism really means appearing perfect. It’s about upholding an image that, when achieved, will bring supposed happiness.
The pursuit of perfection also keeps us from recognizing and sharing the skills we already have. By waiting to share our knowledge with others until we are masters, we rob ourselves and our clients or friends of an opportunity to learn. In business, the ego wants us to look powerful, intelligent and infallible, distracting us from the end goal — providing value that helps others.
A never-ending story
Sadly, the eternal pursuit of perfection never ends — like a finish line that moves further away the closer we get — unless of course we choose to quit. Think of all the opportunities we blow past because we don’t want the world to see us until we’re perfect.
Daring to try deserves admiration. Learning and innovating doesn’t feel safe and it’s not supposed to. Familiarize yourself with that space: take an art class, volunteer to teach an exercise class, post a piece of writing online.
Every time we force ourselves to be seen, to let our imperfections be known without shame, we grow and that is the real end goal.