“One of the basic rules of the universe is that NOTHING IS PERFECT. Perfection simply does not exist…” –Stephen Hawking
When it comes to business and all other aspects of life, we want to aim high. The problem begins when we set the bar too high and aim for perfection. Perfectionism, according to the MPaW (Motivation, Performance, and Wellbeing) Research Group, is having unrealistic expectations and thinking and feeling negatively when those expectations aren’t met.
We all have perfectionism to some degree. I mean, we all want to avoid making mistakes as much as possible, because our mistakes carry consequences. From a young age, we were taught that way and were punished for engaging in wrong behaviors. That’s how we learn what is right and wrong and how to do better.
The problem arises when we are so focused on punishment that we strive, almost desperately, to avoid mistakes. For some people, perfection is a shield—we think that the only way to be accepted in our social context is to behave the way they want. But being too harsh on ourselves and the people around us does our mental health no favors.
Studies show that toxic perfectionism is highly correlated with depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health problems. These trends are particularly higher in Western cultures, with up to 33% of the population exhibiting traits of perfectionism (Curran and Hill, 2019).
When we expect ourselves, our families, or our team to be perfect, we will only end up frustrated. It keeps us from moving forward, learning new things, and achieving bigger goals in fear of failing to reach them. It also keeps us from respecting our limits and puts unreasonable pressure on the people around us. It steals from us our joy, growth, health, confidence, and peace of mind.
That’s why perfection shouldn’t be the goal. We can strive our whole lives to chase perfection, but we will never be able to attain it. We can only get close enough. In the words of Vince Lombardi, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
What should be the goal then? Strive for progress and continuous improvement. Learning is a lifelong process, and the best we can do is to be better versions of ourselves than who we were yesterday. Making mistakes is okay. In fact, when we try to avoid making mistakes, we miss the opportunity to learn from them.
We are humans. We have limitations that depend on the state of our well-being, and every day that changes. Today you can be in tip-top shape and feel like you can conquer the world, but next week you might be too tired or too stressed to function properly. We are not robots who will continue to perform functions steadily and consistently the way they were programmed. And even robots break down and need breaks for maintenance.
It is natural to want to be our best, but we can’t always be at 100% all the time. We need breaks. We need rest. Most importantly, we make mistakes. That doesn’t mean we are failures. A few misses, big or small, don’t discount all the hits we’ve had so far.
Shut down that harsh inner critic in us. Let’s focus instead on finding ways to improve and be better. Besides, perfection is boring.
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman's Odyssey
If it were possible to achieve perfection, there would be nothing left for us to do.
Keep on growing—be ready to fail and learn from your mistakes. Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.