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Last week, I was working on my writer’s website and realized how long it had been since I started. As a software developer, it should be a piece of cake for me, right? But I got stuck. Why? Because I’m also a perfectionist.
While building a website that looks nice and attracts the client I want should be my goal, if I’m honest, what I was trying to do was build THE perfect website.
I started the course in December (2019) and moved through it pretty quickly. But I started building the website, I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted the perfect logo (it’s a text logo for Pete’s sake!), the perfect copy on my home and about pages… and the perfect colors.
But when I thought about how much time had passed since I started, I realized that perfectionism was keeping me stuck. It was stopping me from making progress towards something that God was calling me to do. I knew I had to do something.
But how DO you get unstuck when you’re a perfectionist? Well, to do this you have to learn to fail forward, aim for excellence instead of perfection, and understand that done is better than perfect.
I’m going to talk about these in a little more detail but first… let’s look at what perfectionism is.
WHAT IS PERFECTIONISM?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perfectionism as “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” The definition for perfection itself is “The quality or state of being perfect: such as (a) freedom from fault or defect; flawlessness; maturity; the quality or state of being saintly.”
Looking at these definitions, you might ask, what’s wrong with perfectionism? Is setting high standards for yourself such a terrible thing? I mean, doesn’t the Bible call us to be perfect? Matthew 5:48 says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
But in his article, The Poison of Perfectionism, Rev *Will Van Der Hart states, “The Greek word telios translated as ‘perfect’ here, actually finds far better translation as ‘complete’. It calls us to find completion in Christ rather than strive for unattainable perfection.”
Unattainable perfection. Am I the only one amused by the irony that, perfectionism, powered by the fear of failure causes us to set our standards so high that we fail because they are unattainable? We literally are setting ourselves up for failure.
If we’re honest, we must admit that achieving perfection is impossible on this side of the earth. Sure, we’re being perfected, but God is the only one who is perfect.
So why then do we hold ourselves to such unattainable standards? What causes someone to become a perfectionist?
Well, it’s our good ‘ole friend, fear. Remember him from the post about the one-talent man? Fear of disapproval; fear of not being good enough; fear of getting it wrong. Fear, in some form, is always the driving force behind perfectionism.
Maybe you had a disapproving parent. I’m convinced that every person born in the Caribbean suffers from some level of perfectionism 😂. Caribbean mothers are notorious for spic and span houses. Everything must be perfect and in its proper place. Should I even mention the plastic-covered living room suites reserved for special occasions? 🤣
But perfectionism can keep you stuck. Now the question is, how do you stop being a perfectionist and get things done? How do you get yourself unstuck?
Let’s look at three practical ways to do exactly that.
LEARN TO FAIL FORWARD
The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get.John Maxwell, Failing Forward.
In a recent post, I spoke about the one-talent man from the Parable of the Talents. His master had given him an assignment. And because he wasn’t confident in his ability to carry it, he buried his talent in a hole. He didn’t think he could multiply his talent as the others had, so he didn’t even try. He just kept that one talent safe until the master came back.
Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism. It prevents you from trying unfamiliar things because you believe you can’t do them perfectly.
So what do you do? You learn to fail forward. The best definition I’ve found for failing forward is from this motivational article from Boxing Scene: “Failing forward is about leveraging mistakes; making a realistic assessment of risks and the ability to live with the downside and experiment with new approaches. Failing forward is an investment in human success.”
In a nutshell, this says that when you fail, you accept that you are not perfect and will sometimes fail. Instead of considering yourself a failure, you seek to understand what went wrong and use it to create a new strategy for the future. Over time, you will figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.
When you’re a perfectionist, you see failure as a reflection of who you are. But failure does not change who you are as a person. You find your identity in the Most High God. When you learn to fail forward, you don’t see your failures as a reflection of who you are but as part of your growing process.
If you’d like to learn more about failing forward, check out the John Maxwell book by the same name.
AIM FOR EXCELLENCE INSTEAD OF PERFECTION
I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.Michael J. Fox
Often we confuse perfection with excellence. Excellence is the middle ground between poor and perfect. It is attainable and is always more than good enough. Excellence exceeds expectations. It’s best to decide on the level of excellence you want to achieve beforehand. Then, when your task meets those requirements, you’re done!
But as mentioned before, we can never achieve perfection. Trying to attain perfection will make you feel inadequate and could affect your ability to complete important tasks. Like what happened with my website. An excellent website is what I should have been aiming for, not a perfect one.
For my purposes, an excellent website would look professional, attract my ideal client, and tell them how to contact me so. That’s it! There’s a big difference between doing something well and doing it perfectly. When you set unrealistic standards for yourself (or try to reach the unrealistic standards of others), you’ll end up spinning your wheels in the mud.
Aim for excellence; to be outstanding or above average. Seek to be the best that you can be with what you have right now. You can always improve on it later.
UNDERSTAND THAT DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT
Done Is Better Than Perfect– Sheryl Sandberg
So in the end, I had to understand that done is better than perfect. Having a live imperfect website that clients can find is better than having a website under construction that no one can see. Right?
So I set about getting it done. I worked on it for an hour each day over the course of the week, and I sternly told myself that I didn’t need the perfect photo or the perfect colors. I just needed to get it done.*
Instead of striving for perfection, I aimed for the (excellent but less than perfect) standard that I had set for creating the website. Once the website met those standards, I would consider it completed.
And now it’s done!
Again, it’s impossible to create a perfect website or to do anything perfectly. Whatever you’re doing, it’s better to aim at getting it 80-90% right and then improve on it when you can. That way you can get your tasks done and continue to make progress.
Perfectionism isn’t something you can overcome in a day, though. I had to learn to be patient with myself. But if perfectionism is keeping you stuck, you must learn to fail forward, aim for excellence instead of perfection, and understand that getting the task done is better than doing it perfectly. (Failing that, someone might need to start a Perfectionist’s Anonymous group for us all, lol)
Have these practical tips helped you in any way? Let me know in the comments. Or share this post if you think it might help someone else.
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