Perfection. It’s an interesting concept because what’s perfect depends on perspective. What I see as perfect, and what you see as perfect may well differ.
We also hold different opinions on the merits of striving for perfectionism – some will see it as good and others as limiting. As a concept, it holds both positive and negative elements.
There are times when we want perfection or something that is as error free as possible.
Take planes for example. With about 16000 planes in the air every day, even if you had what on paper looks like a low error rate of 0.5%, that would equate to about 80 plane crashes a day. Whereas the likelihood of a plane crashing is far lower – there’s about a one in 4.8 million chance of a plane crashing.
As well, the drive for perfectionism has pushed, and will continue to push, many fields of society and human endeavours to new levels of progress – securing goals that once seemed unattainable.
At the same time, however, on a personal level the never ending quest for perfectionism can be a demon of destruction – both in how we think and act.
We see images of what’s deemed ‘perfect’ in the press and social media, and yet often the ideal is unrealistic.
Andre Agassi was one of the world’s best tennis players. Throughout his career, he had some amazing highs with spectacularly good tennis days, and then he would come crashing down with not so good tennis days.
In his autobiography, Open, (which, by the way, is well worth reading) he recounts the conversation with his new coach Brad. This was at a time when his game was faltering. His coach told him that his problem was ‘perfectionism’. He said “You always try to be perfect, and you always fall short and it fucks with your head. Your confidence is shot and perfectionism is the reason. You try to hit a winner on every ball, when just being steady, consistent, meat and potatoes, would be enough to win ninety percent of the time”.
Similarly, Margaret Atwood, an amazing writer and the author of The Handmaid’s Tale (and other books, once again worth reading) said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word”.
We all have an inner voice that tells us not to do something. Our inner critic can shout out ‘You’re not worthy’, ‘You’re not good enough’ or other unhelpful comments.
I remember when I sent the final manuscript for my first book (Step Up – How to Build your Influence at Work), to my publisher. At the time she asked me how I felt; thinking I’d be elated. I wasn’t. Oddly enough, I felt nauseous because I was worried about how people would react, and that my writing efforts would be judged and found to be wanting.
It happens to all of us.
It can be easy to let your inner critic – the voice that tells you that you have to be perfect and to never fail – to hold you back from making progress.
You may be holding back posting your first LinkedIn article, waiting for the perfect words to appear on the page. Perhaps you are holding back having a conversation with a friend or colleague that you need to have, waiting for the perfect time. You may be holding back from speaking up in a meeting, waiting for the perfect time to have your voice heard.
There is never a ‘perfect time’. There’s just time – and the time is now.
It’s not about being perfect, rather it’s about continuous improvement. Being happy with your achievements, but not complacent. It’s a process of regular reflection so you can learn and progress in the areas in your life that matter to you.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition and stretch goals. It’s when being perfect is the outcome or goal that it becomes limiting.
As the American author and journalist, Anna Quindlen said, “The thing that is really hard and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself”.
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today!
Michelle Gibbings is a change leadership and career expert and founder of Change Meridian. Michelle works with global leaders and teams to help them get fit for the future of work. She is the Author of ‘Step Up: How to Build Your Influence at Work’ and