Why Perfectionism is a Losing Strategy
A few months ago, a group of friends and I were chatting with one of our friends about growing his business. Call him Sam. Sam wanted to take his business to the next level, but even when he committed to taking the action, he seemed hesitant. As we talked about it more, it became obvious why he was reluctant to take the step. Sam had this lofty vision for his accomplishments – call them ideals. In his mind, everything had to be perfect. So when Sam shifted his focus to things that needed to get done, goals that seemed underwhelming, it was not enough. In his mind, no matter what he accomplished, it would never be perfect.
Sam was stifled by perfectionism. He was unable to take action on his goals because it would never be enough. Although perfectionism can seem like a form of diligence or ambition, perfectionism is a trait that leads to a much different outcome. Some of the many downsides of perfectionism include:
-Adding immense pressure because the best is never enough
-Being paralyzed by taking any action because starting becomes daunting
-Causing mental health issues due to a life of constant comparison
Perfectionism is a losing strategy because it is unreachable. It creates high standards that makes everything else seem pointless. An all or nothing perfectionism strategy sets one up to lose because that person will never reach their lofty ideal, and it will put them in a frenzy trying to continuously reach it.
Perfectionism is also a losing strategy because it stems from a comparison game. What others have becomes more important than what you or I have. And because there will always be people ahead of us in some way, what we have will never be enough. Chasing, emptiness, and envy is not a winning formula.
We all perceive perfectionism differently. Some seek the achievement of being their best or being the best in their peer groups. Some seek the approval of others who they see as superior. Others seek respect or admiration of being recognized for their accomplishments by others. While drive, charisma, and ambition are all valuable traits, perfectionism takes away the value from yourself and gives it to others.
The American Dream
One of my favorite vacation spots as a teenager was to Washington DC. This city defines U.S. ideals. I remember stopping by the Lincoln Memorial to read the Emancipation Proclamation and remember considering how far we’ve come since then. To many, the U.S. is a beacon of opportunity. A land where riches and opportunity are available to everyone according to their ability or achievement. The American Dream.
Unfortunately, this ideal has become over-complicated. Ability is often determined by the hours someone studies or works, and achievement is often determined by what you have compared to someone else. We’ve complicated it into a form of perfection where we strive to be perfect and match what everyone else has in order to make us feel special, rewarded and included.
It’s ok to be wrong – because being wrong makes us grow. It’s ok not to have what everyone else does – because where true confidence comes from is a belief in yourself. It’s ok to do your thing, not chase someone else’s ideal – because that’s what will make you happy. There is a better alternative to being perfect all the time.
Who you are is decided by no one but you.
— Pat Mazza (@evolutionmentor) October 15, 2018
The Winning Strategy
Achieving the goals you want in your life will require the discipline, focus and hard work to get it done. Idealizing about the perfect outcome will not. Become someone who is diligent in their work and meticulous with their craft yet accepts feedback and is able to pivot when things change. Have a drive and a passion for the things you believe in instead of doing things to keep up with the Jones’. And strive for excellence on a consistent basis, but do it for your joy, not to compare to someone else’s success. These are the alternatives to perfectionism.
Be the ‘MVP’
And by MVP I don’t mean you have to be a LeBron James or Sidney Crosby. What I am referring to is another type of MVP – a Minimum Viable Product. The idea comes from Eric Reiss’ book, The Lean Startup. As Eric Reiss puts it, it’s a version of a product that “collects the maximum amount of learning from customers with the least effort”.
Essentially, the best products don’t start off as being the best. They are introduced at a rapid pace, then improved on, reiterated again, until there becomes a point where the product is ready for market. The MVP is built through learning and growth.
People are not products but there’s a principal in there. I believe it can be applied to the area of perfectionism. The idea of the MVP dismisses the requirement to be ‘perfect’. In fact, it positions being imperfect as better! That’s because more learning is involved, and with that learning about yourself or your situation, can lead to massive improvements.
Perfection is only an ideal anyway. Seeking perfection is a lost cause since it is unattainable. Why not use a more proactive approach to learning, growing and maturing. This will surely bring you further, and more fulfilled than chasing after the unachievable.
An Abundance Mindset
The difference between those who talk about their goals and those who take action on their goals are the people who choose to see the opportunity in the challenge and make something out of it. Even though it may not be perfect, there is always something to be happy for or thankful for. Like turning a problem on its head, it comes down to perspective. Instead of feeling unworthy, or believing less of yourself, remember there is always enough to go around. It’s a mindset game because no matter the circumstances, how we feel is always in our control.
Any goal you set can be a success. No matter if you hit the goal or fail at it, you’ve done more than you previously tried. The progress of learning and developing is a success in and of itself. Progress is always a step forward. So seek out the progress in your life, not the perfection. Rethink the way you set goals so that you continuously set yourself up for success. I even believe in striving for 10X goals that push your boundaries. Even though they may not materialize right away, the progress made up to that point is something to be very proud of.
Take a second to make a list of all the things you’re proud of as well as your greatest accomplishments. I highly doubt that your list will be blank. It’s so important to realize how special each one of us is, and how far we’ve come. Progress doesn’t only need to come in the form of accomplishments. It can come in the form of new understanding, relationships, dealing with a fear, and approaching a situation differently.
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50,000 likes on a post? A 400K job? Successful kids? All that can seem desirable. But keeping up with everyone else does not define your success. You are unique. You are 1 in 7 billion. There is no one quite like you. When you appreciate that, living up to the appearance of someone else is actually a waste of your talent.
For that reason, it is important to understand your values, specifically, what is truly important to you. Success to one person can mean something completely different for someone else. When you understand what drives you and what you ultimately want in life, your success criteria becomes defined. From that point forward, your success in life is determined by the choices you make to fulfill your ultimate vision, not someone else’s.
Approach life from an authentic perspective and be greeted by authentic responses in return. People respect vulnerability, and often times people are too afraid to admit their own. At the end of the day, we have one life to live and that life is ours. Would you want to be spending it living someone else’s dream, or following through on something you believe in?
Back to Sam
Earlier in the post, I was mentioning how Sam wasn’t getting started because he couldn’t reconcile his lofty ideals with the reality of starting small. So what he began to do was he began focusing on his progress. He would measure his progress each day, week and month to see how far he had come from where he was before. It started to motivate him because he began to see results, and he was comparing his progress to no one else but himself. And it was encouraging to us, his friends, to see his business take on a new direction.
Perfectionism is a heavy burden for many. But with a focus on progress, an abundance mindset and authenticity, you will create an outlook for yourself that encourages personal satisfaction and discourages perfectionism. This is the winning strategy. No longer will it matter how far away you are from reaching the impossible, what matters is how far you’ve come.