Why choose imperfection?

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Imagine this situation: you go to the theater for a performance. The show begins, the story draws you in, you forget about the world outside. And suddenly one of the actors forgets the text. He stands in silence, you can see that he is trying hard to remember what to say, but nothing is happening. And after a while he says, “I’m not playing anymore” and goes backstage. The other actors do not know what to do, because, without this one, the performance cannot be played. After a while, the curtain drops,  off-voice apologizes for the situation and informs about the reimbursement of tickets.

You’re watching a ski jumping competition. Your favorite participant jumps. “Well, it could have been better, but there is still a second series to come. He will probably improve”, you think. But the second series comes and you see the information that your favorite one …resigned. You are wondering: what happened? Did he feel bad? Did something happen? But there is no comment. After the competition, the jumper explains that he felt that he could not jump better because his first jump was bad and he decided to quit.

Do you see the common element of those stories? If no, let’s take a look at one different example. Your colleague decides to start running. At work, he tells what great shoes he has already bought, what clothes he has, and what a perfect plan he has to prepare for running in a marathon. He is supposed to run 2 km every day. On the first, second, third day – everything is going well. On the fourth, he has a terrible headache. He doesn’t run at all. On the fifth day, he has to go to help his parents, so there is no time to run again. On the sixth day, he states that he will not run anymore. When you ask him why he stopped, he says the plan wasn’t perfect and it doesn’t make sense anymore. He just won’t be able to run the marathon. Finally, he does nothing.

These stories may or may not have happened, but they may sound familiar. They all have one thing in common. This something that made their finale different from the dream one. This something is perfectionism. One of our greatest enemies of developing and enjoying life. Of being here and now. Of moving forward, making changes. You’ve probably heard these slogans: Perfect housewife. Perfect mom. Perfect husband. Perfect family. Perfect boss. She, him, they are so perfect. So how/what they really are? When you hear that somebody or something is perfect, what do you think? How do you feel?

Perfectionism cuts your wings; it says:  you have to do “all or nothing”, you can “either do it right or not at all”. When something ceases to be perfect (again – what does it really mean?), when you do a little less than you assumed, you have to give it up, leave it. You hear in your head: why should you start again, continue, it doesn’t make sense. If something doesn’t go as you want it to, leave it.

Remember how many times you started, for example, a diet? What did it look like? Maybe you made a plan, bought the right products, prepared recipes. One, two, three days, all as planned. But on the fourth day, it was your mother’s dinner. How can you refuse your dear mum to eat her dishes? Diet suspended. Well, since it is already suspended that day, you can eat an extra portion of the cake in the evening. Diet day is already “wasted”. And the next day maybe a cookie that a colleague from work baked for a whole team.  And from here it is close to “eeeh, it doesn’t make sense, I don’t do it anymore.” Better to plunge into failure and end the venture. Sounds familiar?

Many people don’t start to pursue new goals at all. They assume that they won’t do it perfectly, so they’d rather have nothing than even a piece. They think this way: I’m either going to do something perfectly or not at all. What about you? Have you ever rejected any idea at the start because you thought it wasn’t good enough? You had a plan, a dream, but your perfectionism told you that you can’t do it great, that you can’t afford it? Or that there are other people, who probably do it better than you, so you can’t do it perfectly? 

I remember a story I heard at one of the conferences. The speaker, a polish professor of psychology, said that in the late 1980s, as a student, he went with his friends to the Polish seaside. You could feel the breeze of changes coming into the country, young people were looking for new opportunities and a better future. There was nothing on the beach in the village where they were – no cafe, no shop, nothing. Then the professor said, “Hey guys, let’s start a business here! We will sell ice cream, lemonade, sweets, and beer. We will create our first company! ” Friends replied with a murmur:” ooh, well, we don’t have that much money, we would have to build a place, find suppliers .. We have no experience in this, we have no contacts, we will not do it perfectly. ” The professor nodded and forgot the idea.

He remembered it a year later, in the same place, buying a cold beer by the beach. From the “shop” in an old caravan. He asked the seller how he made this place. The man replied that…. just made. He had an idea, of course, spent a lot of time on it, overcame difficulties, and finished it. He bought an old caravan, got a license, found suppliers, took a chance. The professor told his friends about it. They, with the same grunt as the year before, replied “Well, he fit himself to the market.” But the professor admitted “Perfectionism stopped us. It cut our wings. Stopped before any attempt! We gave up running right at the start.” He said that they were coming to this beach for the next several years, together with their families – this place and this man were still there. It kept reminding them not to quit too fast, not to be so critical and binary about their ideas. 

Starting something new is making a promise to yourself. To stop this action is to break a word. Break it against someone the most important to you – yourself. If your boss promises you that he will give you a raise or a promotion, talks about it several times, and then nothing happens and finally gives it to someone else, how do you feel about it? If you make an appointment with your friend several times and he cancels these meetings or doesn’t come to them, do you want to meet more? You start to doubt these people. And it is the same with you. If you make promises to yourself and break them more and more, you start to doubt yourself. With the next idea, goal, you listen to the voice of perfectionism in your head, you let it go at the start, because “it’s not for me, it won’t work”. You doubt more and more often because we remember the unattained goals more than the achieved ones.  We think that we could have or do something if we were more “perfect”

The phrase “might as well” also helps in building a close relationship with perfectionism. Think for a moment – how often and in what context do you use it? Negative or positive? Will you say: “I ran a kilometer today so I might as well run another one” or “I have already eaten half the chocolate so I might as well eat the other half “? What counts is what you do after you eat this chocolate during the diet, if you do not go to fitbox classes once, instead of getting up earlier, you will sleep until 10. Do you say “I might as well finish my diet /run /get up now earlier or I might as well be on a diet again/ run/ get up earlier”? Then it turns out who won: perfectionism or you.

Perfectionism is a friend of “flying high, big changes, ambitious goals”. But its greatness also lies in the fact that it exaggerates your every stumble. Minimizes progress. It will say “okay, you ran 5 km, but why not 10?” As if the 5 km did not matter! Each small step, that is different from your perfect plan, will grow to a milestone that will affect everything and – possibly – will lead to giving up your way. It will tell you “don’t be kidding, you can’t do it to the level you want. Let it go. “

So what to do, to at least minimize the influence of perfectionism? One way (not the only one, of course) is to become open for…. imperfection. To the fact that something could go differently. It also allows you to get to the end, finish what you begin. Not to start successive and consecutive projects and give them up when you fail for the first time, but to survive to the end, no matter if the result is perfect or not. Think, how many people you know, who at the start or the first time they fail, say: I let it go, it’s not what I wanted? Maybe it’s also your way of thinking? And how many do you know who are trying to achieve their goals, despite obstacles? Who are open to imperfection, that something might go wrong but also still might be a bit better, still trying to get back on track? Just because something doesn’t work perfectly doesn’t mean it is a failure. It means it is going at a different pace, under different conditions, but it is still happening!

The philosophy of “small steps – big changes” also allows you to fight perfectionism. You do not focus here on the end of the result itself, but on small, everyday steps, on being a bit better, as well as on analyzing and observing how you are doing. If you get into the habit of doing a workout for 15 minutes every day, taking notes of what helped you to do it and what stopped you, even if you fail for some reason, you will see what happened. You will be able to make an improvement, a small change that will help you stick to your plan and bring you closer to your goal. Maybe you will change the hours, maybe the place, maybe the type of workout, but you will still be on your way. You’ll see your imperfection which will push you to make small but constant progress is visible. 

Perfectionism can stop you for a long time. It can make many of your dreams and plans never happen, so you don’t get what you want. But you can make an effort to fight it. Accept that sometimes you are better, sometimes you are worse. Instead of big drastic changes, you can introduce these small, baby steps, analyze your progress and make improvements,  to enjoy small successes.

The most important day of your journey to change does not have to be perfect. It is important that it will happen, that you will be able to cross out something from your list of resolutions, goals, and dreams. Cross out not because you chose the direction named “resign”, but the one marked “complete”. Because in the final statement, what matters more: that your success is less spectacular than you wanted or that you have reached the end?