To be great at something, you must be willing to fail at it first. No matter what we do, we strive to do everything right the first time we do it, but how realistic is that? It’s very rare that someone who has never golfed before can pick up a club and drive the ball 300 yards. It’s very rare that someone who has never picked up a paint brush before can become the next Michelangelo. If you’re not one of those select few, you must be willing to fail over and over again. In fact, failing is one of the key elements to learning.
Look around you, perfectionism is permeated everywhere in our society. From the unrealistic standards of beauty in advertisements to the “crucial” deadlines our bosses impose on us, we are expected to uphold the standard of perfection. Because it is everywhere, it seeps into our mindset and everyday living.
Have you found yourself so motivated to getting everything crossed off your to-do list that you end up missing out on sleep? Have you found yourself doing overtime at work because some part of you deemed the work you did was below average? Have you found anger toward yourself because you weren’t able to do every single thing on your list, plus make dinner, plus make time for family, plus read those 20 pages of your book, plus finding time to plan this weekend’s events?
If it seems like I’m going on and on, there is a point to it! Not only do we expect to do everything we can, but we expect to do it right the first time.
I’m not advocating to lower your expectations, or even to purposely fail at everything you do. Just go into everything with an open mind, do not expect perfection.
I see it all of the time, people willing to admonish themselves just because they did not live up to their perfect expectations. I even expect the most out of myself, and in fact, I am guilty of beating myself up for perfectionistic expectations.
Last weekend I participated in my very first live and in-person race. As you could imagine, I was quite excited to take part in that realm of competition. So excited, in fact, that I almost immediately ditched my goal pace of 8:20 per mile and went out with the 8 minute per mile pack.
Mind you, this had been a big part of my training, was to anticipate people jumping the gun and to avoid the temptation of going with them. Yes, I felt good the first two miles so I disregarded my strategy. It came back to bite me almost immediately around mile 3 and 4 (out of 10).
I pushed myself through the next few miles and then decided to pull back my pace at mile 8. I finished strong, racing in my first live race and got very good results. However, I felt dissatisfied with myself immediately after the race. Why? I feel like I was too focused on maintaining that perfect strategy. I was upset that I didn’t stick with my plan, even though that meant I worked much harder and got good results because of it.
I failed at executing my strategy, but I will learn from it and go in to the next race better mentally prepared!
The best way to deal with being a perfectionist (or having perfectionist-like qualities) is to recognize it and handle it accordingly. Have high expectations for yourself, but be prepared to fail and learn. We all make mistakes, but ironically that is our path to success.
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