Perfectionism robs us of greatness. Even when we know that, we still fight with it. I have the scars to prove it.
Here’s what happened.
Three months ago I bought some rose bushes with the intent to plant them the next day. But something prevented me from doing it that day, and then life intervened. Three months later I still hadn’t planted the bushes. As I woke today I decided that this was the day to plant the bushes.
It was an absolutely beautiful day: a cloudless blue sky, bug-free, and a comfortable temperature. I got out my tools, humming with anticipation about digging in the dirt, working with my hands, stimulating my creativity.
I already had bushes in the spot where these were going, and I had to dig them up. I was going to move a few other plants to create more space. I had the right tools and a plan.
I started in with the first bush. I cut off most of the branches to minimize scratching, and dug it out. I removed some of the larger weeds, moved my plants, dug a new hole, watered the bush and put it in. Last, I smoothed out the dirt.
Unfortunately, I looked at what I had done. I did not see the great transplanting job I had just completed. All I saw were all the stray leaves and weeds in that garden bed. I immediately attacked that bed, trying to eradicate every last leaf and weed. I don’t know how long I worked. But as much as I worked on that bed, I still saw places that needed improvement. It wasn’t perfect.
Here’s the thing: while I focused my attention on this tiny plot, there were nearby beds with huge weeds choking the plants, and two more bushes that needed planting. There were clearly bigger priorities all around me, yet I focused on perfecting this one tiny garden plot.
Isn’t that so often how we are? We try to perfect something – polish it again and again. And our focus is skewed. We miss important things because we are focused on perfecting one thing.
Why do we do that?
Perhaps our goal feels too big. We fear failure. Perhaps we have not made the steps small enough. When I decided to only plant two bushes and broke the job down into steps, I minimized fear. The steps couldn’t have been more clear. Fear wasn’t my problem this time.
We don’t know how to do something. If I didn’t have a specific plan for removing one bush and replacing with another, I could have been unable to move. We do have to turn the unknown into the known, or at least the START into the known. Otherwise, we can be paralyzed with uncertainty.
We get going in one place and don’t want to move. We get comfortable. We keep working in our comfortable spot, and it makes us feel productive. But digging through the same dirt looking for ever-smaller weeds is not productive.
Perfectionism is so habitual that it takes a huge effort to get ourselves to stop. This was clearly my case today. I reminded myself of what I should do, but I couldn’t stop right away. It took a lot of self-coaching to leave the unfinished plot and plant the other bush. Eventually I did. I then congratulated myself that I had accomplished what I set out to do. Moving on was not a failure; it was intentional focus on my stated values.
If I had kept going in my little spot, I would have completely missed the most important goal – all because I was trying to be perfect. Perfectionism prevents us from being and doing all that we could be.
If you tend toward perfectionism, you may get tripped up by fear, uncertainty, comfort, or habit. In my experience, there is no magic cure. But we CAN notice it, and change our attitude and actions so we can accomplish what we have set out to do. Let’s recognize perfectionism for what it is – a stall tactic – and take the road toward perfect imperfection. Not only are we much more likely to accomplish our goals, but we will have a lot more fun along the way.
Have you seen yourself in one of the perfectionist profiles? How have you dealt with it? Click here to leave a comment.