Perfectionism is the greatest trap we fall in. Our entire society, our businesses, our culture runs on this idea. We’re all lesser for it.
This past week, I had a meeting scheduled with a successful entrepreneur in Atlanta. Before the call, I started hoping he wouldn’t attend the call. I was unsure of what value I had to contribute to him. I was thinking about all the ways I fall short in life.
We try so hard to be perfect, to keep up an image that others have about us. Even the image that we have for ourselves.
“I was meant for more. I should’ve been further along. Why am I like this?”
We beat ourselves up. In this way, we become our own worst enemies.
It’s hard to not feel defeated, overwhelmed, out of breath sometimes when everyone else around us appears to be running ahead just fine. Everyone else appears more accomplished, more fit, richer, with better relationships and partners.
We’re all in this. Men and women who are in their 30s, 40s, 50s who are afraid to admit they have any feelings of doubt, insecurity, vulnerability, loneliness.
“Oh no, everything is going great!” they say with a fake cheeriness.
Businesses and governments put on an armor of invulnerability. Everything is structured, static, sterile. There’s a reason why hundreds of millions across the world with these jobs are dissatisfied, disengaged, and unhappy in their work. They feel they have to suppress a big part of themselves to do the work. Their vulnerabilities, their doubts, their fears.
I am giving up this idea. Embracing imperfectionism is freeing. It lets us connect with others more authentically. Happiness, satisfaction, success, growth all comes from rich connections and relationships. This is possible when I don’t have to pretend to be perfect.
This is not about avoiding progress. This is not about stopping ourselves from improving.
Just to be clear…
This isn’t a “trick” to make you happier. Remember, the unrealistic, ridiculous side of this coin is perfectionism. The idea that we can do anything perfectly is completely and irreversibly contrary to logic, the history of mankind, and every person’s experience.
Against a giant tortoise, we’re all speed demons! Against a cheetah, even Usain “The Human Lightning” Bolt will get embarrassed. Your confidence in your foot speed depends on what relative benchmarks you consider to be adequate, poor, or remarkable…Every confidence benchmark is arbitrary, so we may as well create our own.
The two quotes above are from Stephen Guise and his excellent book How to be an Imperfectionist.
We don’t have everything in our lives figured out. That’s okay. We’re all going to be okay. I don’t want to be perfect anymore for anyone else. It takes too much energy.
When I started talking with the entrepreneur, I decided to be a bit bold and tell him about this feeling of insecurity I felt when we started the call. And it was such a relief. We connected authentically and genuinely. It was good.
As a consultant, I am trying to do this with businesses. I want to help businesses make change more human. I want them to account for human psychology, human imperfections in their work. I want organizations to sell without treating someone else like an object.
You can read about what work I am doing here (and if you think of any business that can use a gentler and more human way of managing change and growing, let me know).
I hope this week you will let go of a tendency to be perfect and instead be imperfect while trying to be a bit better. To stop comparing yourself with others. To stop making yourself seem invulnerable. Don’t resist the doubts and fears. In fact, have a conversation with someone who can respect it and your relationship with them will become richer for it.
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