Say ‘No’ to Perfect

“Practice makes perfect.”  It’s a saying we’re all familiar with, and if you had an upbringing anything like mine, it was probably something that your parents, your teachers, your coaches would rattle off in your direction at every opportunity – and, as horrifying as it is, it’s probably something you’ve found yourself saying to your own kids; I know I have.

But I’m trying to stop.

Because, I don’t want perfection to be the goal.  I no longer aim for perfect, and I don’t want my children aiming for it either.  The problem with perfection is that it’s very rarely attainable, and even when it is – it isn’t sustainable – it just isn’t.

There’s actually very little positive to be said about the desire for something to be perfect:

  • It can be wildly inefficient, from a time perspective. Very often an inordinate amount of time is spent trying to move something from ‘totally acceptable’ to ‘perfect’ when almost no one will notice the difference and ‘totally acceptable’ was actually just that – totally acceptable.
  • It can lead to significant procrastination: “If I can’t do this perfectly, why do it at all?” As a result, we put off any number of things that COULD have been achieved and achieved well – all in the name of not being able to do them perfectly.
  • One of the nasties hiding beneath the surface of perfectionism is often a fear of the Imperfect. It’s not so much that I want this to be perfect, it’s that if it’s not – that lack of perfection, those flaws that only I can see will impact my self-worth in some way.

Here’s the truth: if you make perfection the goal then more often than not it’ll destroy you, because life isn’t perfect – and neither are you!

Progress, however, is within reach of all of us. Regardless of where we are, who we are, what we’ve done or where we start from – we can all make progress.  We can do better. We can grow. We can learn.

There’s actually a lot positive to be said about the desire to make progress:

  • It can be very efficient, from a time perspective. If I look at something that isn’t perfect, but I can see that I’ve made good progress, that it’s better than the last time, that I’ve learned from the mistakes I made and adapted accordingly – then I’m happy, and I move on.
  • It disempowers perfectionist procrastination: “It doesn’t matter if this isn’t perfect, what matters is that I do it. No one gets everything exactly right all the time.”
  • It builds a positive self-worth because my focus isn’t on all the things I’ve failed in, or all the areas I’ve fallen short of perfection; my focus is on all the areas that I’ve grown and improved in, all the things I’m doing better than last time.

Ultimately, I think a great way to sum it up is this: perfection is a destination – but progress is a journey, and life is a journey – not a destination!  If we’re prepared to let go of the perfect, and embrace progress – we’ll achieve more, and BE more than we ever thought possible.

So, I no longer say: “Practice makes perfect.”  Instead – I say, “Practice makes progress.”  And believe it or not, I’m getting a lot more done, and I’m a lot happier doing it.

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