Leadership Mistakes

Stop Trying to be Perfect!

Mitch Harris asked:

If you want to talk about a limiting perspective on life that can take you out of the game faster than anything, it is what I call the “perfectionist frame.” The feeling or belief that whatever you are doing or working on has to be nothing less than perfect or it is unacceptable.

There are many possible places this comes from, whether it’s having parents who put that kind of pressure and expectation on you as a child, the experience of actually having done some thing(s) to perfection in the past and developing a compulsive attachment to that experience, wanting to show everything and everyone that you can do it or ultimately you really are better then them at the end of the day, the fear of “screwing up” or letting people down, fear or criticism, and on and on and on.

I know that I personally have experienced at least a tinge of each of these experiences, and in some cases more dramatically, at one time or another. I guess you could call me a “recovering perfectionist.” And for some of you reading this letter, there may be other sources behind that experience for you that I have not mentioned.

My intention here is not to illuminate what the source (or sources) was for you. Although if you feel this comes up for you consistently and is currently holding you back in some way I would certainly deem that a worthy inquiry – whether it is through rigorous self inventory, working with a therapist, Coach, journaling or whatever works for you.

As always, I am instead looking to focus on some ideas that could provide clarity or simple solutions for you. And as the Buddha used to say, ultimately I can only speak from my own experience.

The shift that made all the difference in the world for me years ago, and this may sound a bit counter-intuitive at first, was operating with an expectation that I will make mistakes at just about anything I am working on and especially anything I invest any real amount of time and energy towards.

You may interpret this at first glance as me saying that I shoot for sub-par performance or lower my standards. ABSOLUTELY NOT! I would and do attempt my absolute best when taking on a project or setting a goal – simply doing it with a calm and accepting expectation that somewhere along the process I am almost definitely going to screw something up somewhere – and accepting it as a real possibility before it even comes up.

The next voice of resistance that may come up for you is “well, if you focus on something continuously, you are going to manifest it…and haven’t you heard of the law of attraction…and haven’t you seen that movie “The Secret”…and more. So once again, let me clarify that. I am not saying that I focus on making mistakes or that I constantly tell myself I am about to screw something up or anything along those lines. And I am also WIDE OPEN to the possibility of doing things without making any mistakes. It does happen sometimes.

What I am saying here is when that occurs, I now choose to accept it as a gift – A beautiful and lovely thing that has just occurred for me – NOT AS A GIVEN. I let a flawless performance be accepted for exactly what it is – a rare exception that deserves true praise and appreciation. NOT THE WAY THAT IT HAS TO BE OR ELSE!!!

Think about the damage you’ve done to yourself, the momentum you’ve sabotaged, the joy you may have stolen, projects gone incomplete and so much more simply as a result of coming from the perfectionist frame. Maybe it’s time you took it a bit easy on yourself in that regard – NOT LOWER YOUR STANDARDS. Just put the whip away when you’re about to negatively assess all the things you didn’t do perfectly.

Consider this – the best gymnasts on the planet, the ones who operate at the highest level, win all the medals, get all the endorsements, achieve all the fame and glory and end up making all of the money, almost NEVER achieve perfection. In fact, one of the most famous and unforgettable performances in the history of sports is when Nadia Comaneci achieved her perfect score of 10 on the uneven bars over 30 years ago! A perfect game in baseball for a pitcher – also known as a no-hit, no-walk shutout, is even more rare.

Yet does that mean that every athlete who does not achieve perfection is a loser, undeserving, a screw-up, did something wrong, or should be angry with him or herself, or whatever that (your) inner voice sounds like? If your natural, gut level response to this question is “yes”, then I suggest you take a SERIOUS look at yourself in this area.

The best of the best, while they may shoot for perfection, ultimately spend most of their time operating in a perpetual state of imperfection. Yet they are operating at the highest level and truly setting the bar for greatness at what they do. Think about that!

My last thought on this (for now), is to work through the emotional let down you tend to feel right after you’ve just screwed something up royally. JUST WORK THROUGH IT. Much easier said then done. But I truly believe this is one of the keys to success. Resist the tendency to say: “Oh well, I’ll just get a fresh start tomorrow” or “Well, this is already a mess, so let me just move onto something else” or “I know I can do this better, so let me just start from scratch”. Please trust me on this one. Remember: “COMPLETION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PERFECTION.” Finish what you’ve started, accepting there will be mistakes along the way.

So get up, get out and go get it and stop trying to be perfect!

Yours In Success,

Mitch Harris


Communication Mastery

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