I’m a perfectionist. Or at least I was. I have started as of late to look at perfectionism and what it is and how it affects me and others around me. I didn’t really like what I saw.
However, that doesn’t mean that the concept of perfection is entirely a bad thing. I still think it is something to strive for, but my definition of perfection has changed and so has the route by which I plan on obtaining it.
Perfectionism is defined as a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.
It is a modern phenomenon that we have become obsessed with this idea of being perfect. I’m not even going to blame social media, because I started showing signs of this long before the social media world took hold. I was doing this as a child of the 90’s, though social media can certainly play a large role in it.
As a bit of a “goody-two shoes” as a child, I was always working hard to be good and do good. This is easily what started me on the path of perfectionism. I had to get an “A” on every assignment. I had to be nice to everyone. I had to make people happy.
I say “had to” but I enjoyed doing it, or I wouldn’t have continued to do it. That is one of the great things about children, they do what they want and they can get away with it. Adults tend to be more guilt or fear focused and do a lot of things we don’t want to do.
As time went on, that was exactly what this had become. Motivated by a fear of failure, I studied hard for my classes as they became increasingly difficult. There were hoops I suddenly felt like I was jumping through.
There was always just “one more thing.” Sure, I can get A’s in all my classes. I can volunteer for this position. I can hold a job. I can be in a successful and happy relationship. I can always be dressed well. I can eat healthy and exercise.
I felt the need to always be taking on each “one more thing” that was asked of me. Refusal was not an option.
Logically, I don’t know where this idea came from. I guess somehow I figured the more hoops I jumped through, the more perfect I would become? I had to look the part and act the part in order to become the part, right?I had to do it all because my idea of perfection included everything.
I had a very big view, even if it was a little short-sighted.
There is always one more thing we can add to our to do list. There is always one more thing we can accomplish. There is always one more hoop we can jump through.
It seems easy enough to do. One isn’t a big number. We start small, trying to be perfect in one thing. I wanted perfect grades. I had visions and dreams of what good grades could do. I would be top of my class graduating from high school, and those good grades would get me into a fancy, ivy-league school with great scholarships. Again, graduating top of my class, I would have my pick of good jobs.
It was a perfect dream.
As I got older, to obtain that dream took a little bit more to set me apart. I should have some volunteer experience, I should have some work experience. That wasn’t a big deal. I started volunteering at a young age, it’s just one more thing. When I was old enough, I started working. It’s just one more thing.
I started studying music, it would make me more well-rounded. It’s just one more thing. The problem is, all of those “one more things” start adding up. It passes simply juggling several different activities, trying not to let any of the balls fall down and moves into jumping through hoops while juggling. I found myself wishing the balls were knives and secretly hoping I would drop one.
The dream expanded from a simple path to a full life plan. I wanted a good job still, but I also wanted a family. Dating? A relationship? Just one more thing. The list got longer and the balls kept increasing and there were always more hoops to jump.
Does this sound familiar at all?
When the vision I had of perfection suddenly shattered, I collapsed from exhaustion.
Something happened that was not in the life dream-turned plan and I didn’t know how to handle it. I lost my focus and everything fell. My “perfect” life came crashing down around me.
It was only then I realized, among a myriad of other lessons I learned, that life had not been perfect for a long time. I hadn’t been happy, I was too busy being perfect to really feel as happy as I appeared. That was one of the balls I had to keep in the air, you see. I had to be happy at all times. Cheerful and optimistic, that’s me.
It was just part of the show. Just a part I played, hoping to one day really feel like I had a decent part. My life became a side-show act when what I really wanted was to take the lead.
Life doesn’t really work that though, does it?
No matter how good you get at a side-show, you are honing skills that will simply keep you there. It doesn’t matter how well you do it, you are basically digging your hole a little deeper and a little farther away from that goal and happy dream you once had.
The more experience you have in customer service, it doesn’t matter how good you do at your job, it’s not going to get you into marketing, or the IT department, or any other position you really want more than customer service.
How To Really Achieve Perfection- It Takes Time
While the above can seem like an incredibly vicious cycle (and it is), it’s not impossible to break. I’m not saying it will be easy by any stretch.
But it is possible.
What it really takes is time. It’s not something we can achieve right away. The older I get, the more I realize I have to learn. I realize how far I am from obtaining this idea called perfection.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t something worth pursuing. It’s just going to happen one step at a time. There have been moments where I have been perfectly happy. There was nothing more I could want in particular moments in my life. Like the time I hit publish on my first book. Like closing night of a show I’ve been rehearsing for months with people who have become dear friends. Like on vacation in a beautiful location surrounded by people I love.
We can have little moments of perfection and see that it is something that we want to have more often.
But these moments don’t just happen. They come at a culmination of several months or even years of work. It took time to write and publish a book. It took time to rehearse for the play and it took years to foster the relationships that make my life feel complete and even then, only for a brief moment in time.
We have a tendency to fear the passing of time, but it is really something that we should be enjoying. We should enjoy each moment for what it is and for where it leads us to, because things are only going to get better with time and a little bit of effort.
Work for Perfection
Perfection is also something that does not just come our way as time passes. Each and every moment I’ve had that felt perfect came at the end of a lot of hard work.
And the thing about hard work? It involved a lot of failure. My first book went through a long editing process because things just didn’t make sense. Many nights during rehearsal I forgot lines, dance steps and notes. Often in relationships, there are fights and misunderstandings.
Each and every failure was then worked on, overcome and that made things all the sweeter.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned about perfection is the importance of failure. Just like the example I shared at the beginning, when we are simply juggling, creating a balancing act and/or are jumping through hoops, it is merely the appearance of perfection, without having the substance.
The fastest way to real perfection is failing, and failing often. It is through our failures that we really learn the best way to do things. After we fail, we learn much more rapidly than with all the study and reading all the books.
As proud as I am of publishing my first book and as perfect of a moment as that was for me, I also have to admit it was a total flop. Not that the book isn’t good, but I had no idea how to share and market it.
I fell flat on my face with that book and I wouldn’t take a moment of it back, because I learned so much as a result. My second book did even better, but still wasn’t perfect by any standard. My third will be the best I have written so far and we will have to see how well the release goes.
The same concepts hold true with anything we are working on. As we do and experience and fail, we become better. We are able to change and improve until we have more and more of those perfect moments.
Not the ones where you are exhausted because you are still juggling too many things while jumping through hoops, balanced on a high-wire. You are not a side act in the circus. You are the main event and the hero of your story, slaying dragons and demons with a victory at the end.
Stories without failure and trials are boring. They are too easy and no one for a moment believes they are real. It’s not about having things go smoothly at all times.
We learn to shine in the struggle.
The formula to find and obtain perfection is failure + hard work + learning +time. This can seem contradictory given the title I offered at the beginning. The fastest way to perfection, requires time.
Life is full of little ironies though. The time it takes to fail is considerably less than simply observing before jumping in, trying to do things right the first time. Because after so much watching, we see all the failures and struggles and we become afraid to actually do the thing.
Stop. Just do the thing.
Watching, observing and studying will help, but there is no greater teacher than experience.
As human beings, especially in this age of picture-perfect social media, we want that perfection, and we want it now, without the pain of failure. However, that is precisely what we need to obtain it.
The best part is, it’s not just picture-perfect. There is a depth behind it that is so much more worthwhile. It’s a feeling you get from the tips of your toes to the top of your head and then some, feeling like you are going to absolutely explode from joy.
Those are the moments that seem to be perfect.
They take work. They take time. But the time is passing anyways, so you might as well learn how to do it right by failing.
Failing is the fastest way to learn. Once I dropped my “perfect” juggling act, I was able to look around at the “perfect dream” I had. I had only gotten farther away. Once I failed, I was able to stop and look around and change direction to really end up where I wanted to be.
Life isn’t perfect for me. But I sure have a lot of good moments that get really close. Many more than when I was too focused on juggling. And it’s not just because of my life situation. It was based on the hard work, failures and learning that came. And still come. I still fail, but I keep working.
So get to failing.
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