I listen to a lot of inspirational podcasts during my daily commute, and a common message I have been hearing lately is to give up perfection. Sometimes when people say this you can have a vision in your head of a person who doesn’t try very hard or has a “good enough” attitude. How I like to think of it is prioritization. My personal and very recent example of this is with this website. First of all, I am the last person in the world who should ever be building a website since technology lapped me a decade ago….and pulled my hair, punched me in the arm, and untied my shoes while sprinting past me. Little bastard! Anyway, although I knew I wanted to have a “store” featured on my website where people could buy BU2BFULL merchandise as a way to spread the message that “you are enough” I knew it was going to take me a while to get that portion figured out. I was anxious to get my project launched and didn’t want to wait another month or so until I figured out the store. So, instead of holding myself up, I launched the site with a “coming soon” notice to tell people it was coming but not here yet. I didn’t wait for “perfection” to launch my site. Instead, I realized what was most important and had moved forward with the biggest priority, launching the site. An added bonus to not holding up the website for that one feature was that I was able to take my time with the store. In doing so I was able to find a better company to work with than the one I originally planned.
I am reading a great book right now titled, “Kitchen Table Wisdom” by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, and I just read a chapter she wrote on this topic and I think it is genius and want to share: She says that perfectionism is a learned behavior, which is good because that means you can recover from this need. “Perfection is the belief that life is broken. Sometimes perfectionists have had a parent who is a perfectionist, someone who awarded approval on the basis of performance and achievement. Children can learn early that they are loved for what they do and not simply for who they are. The life of such children can become a constant striving to earn love. Love is never earned; it is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.” Stop, and just let that paragraph sink in for a minute. Re-read it. Take your time.
The author goes on to say that being a child with perfectionistic parents, and becoming a doctor, she was all about getting 100% on all tests that she took, and not just on school tests, but every type of test out there. The story she tells about herself is one where she needed to take her driver’s test, including the written exam. She says that she studied for days and days and days to ace the test. Sure enough, when the day came to take the test she received a 100%. Being so happy about this, she raced home and triumphantly told her boyfriend that she scored 100% on her driver’s test. His response was “my love, why would you want to do that?” That was all he had to say for her to realize the amount of time she spent out of her past week to get a 100% on a test that was a simple pass or fail.
I loved this little story that she told because it explains perfectionism so well and how it can actually be very damaging. Not only damaging to children if they grow up in a household where a 92% on a test is viewed as a failure, but as an adult where so much precious time is spent dwelling on details that at the end of the day don’t matter at all or matter so very little, especially when you compare it to the amount of time you spent on it. Besides, what is “perfect” anyway? If you were to ask 10 people their definition you would for sure get 30 different answers.
When a young mother thinks having a spotless house makes her “perfect” she sacrifices sitting on the floor and playing with her child. When a manager thinks having a “perfect” report is going to get him a promotion he sacrifices joining his family for dinner every night for a week. When a student believes that a 100% versus a 95% on a test is going to make a difference in her GPA she sacrifices going to the volunteer mixer and networking with the person who could be her mentor and help her secure her dream job after college. At the end of the day all of these scenarios boil down to priorities. Why is it a priority to have a spotless house, especially when you have a family living in that house?! Odds of the house being spotless and company coming over when it is “perfect” are slim to none anyway. Why is it imperative to have a “perfect” report? Yes, have all the facts included and have them accurate and have your messages on point, but is it going to make or break you if you showcased it in a horizontal layout instead of vertical, or used an Aerial font instead of Calibri? Shall we even discuss colors? No. What matters is your confidence in the guts of the report and your ability to present it and deliver the message. And much of that confidence will naturally come if you don’t feel like a shmuck for blowing off your family all week. Lastly, if 5% on a test really makes a difference in your GPA, then you weren’t that close to perfection anyway. Also, after you secure your first job out of college, does anyone put their GPA on their resume anymore? If so, do seasoned leaders really look at that and care that someone had a 4.0 when they were in college or do they care more about what you contributed and accomplished at your last job? The answer: it is what you can do in the real world and not how well you can study and take a test.
So, here is to having a plan with your life, working very hard to achieve the goals in your plan, revisiting them and retweaking them when necessary, but also knowing when enough is enough and remembering what is most important in life. Now, go make some memories with your loved ones and remember that no family has ever been eaten alive by dust bunnies. I promise!