Instead of giving yourself permission to fail, these are more effective ways to achieve what you hope for.
Perfection seems like the best possible goal — after all, perfection is, by definition, the best possible thing. So why not aim that high? You know the meme, right? Shoot for the moon — even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.
Okay, so there are problems with this meme, but more important than the inaccurate astronomy there is the unfortunate fact that aiming for perfection isn’t likely to get you close. I’d settle for second or third place from perfect any day. When you aim for perfection, you’ve given yourself a goal that you are guaranteed never to reach. Can you think of anything more discouraging? There’s nothing that takes the wind out of your sails nearly as quickly as despair.
Being a perfectionist feels tough and courageous. Perfection seems like the kind of goal that only the most dedicated, hardcore, virtuous person would pursue. But it’s not. Perfectionism is actually kind of a weak option — since you’ve chosen a goal that can never be achieved, you’re basically giving yourself permission to fail.
I’m not saying you should pick easy goals; we should always challenge ourselves. But instead of chasing a goal that you literally cannot attain, try for one of these goals instead, because I guarantee they are just as difficult and much more worthwhile:
Are you better today than yesterday? Making progress may not be dramatic, and it doesn’t make Instagram-worthy boasting material, but it is real, and it should be celebrated. We all want to be able to fast-forward through the process of improvement. Improvement is boring, compared to achievement. But achievement is just a what it looks like when you’ve got a big enough pile of small improvements. Each of the stones that built the mountain matters.
Being realistic is usually a little disappointing. It means not ignoring our own limitations, as frustrating as they may be. Being realistic might mean that I have to recognize I’m a better mother for breaking out the frozen pizza, instead of cooking something from scratch, wearing myself out, and snapping at my family. It might look like a failure from the outside, but being realistic is really a triumph, and one that takes a great deal of prudence, humility, and patience.
Part of the reason that perfection is so tempting is that it’s so vague and nebulous. I couldn’t tell you what perfect looks like, just which things aren’t perfect. Which, as you know, is literally everything. Working towards a specific goal is a lot harder, because you have some specific accountability. I used to wake up every morning and try my darnedest to “be a good mother.” That never worked, because I never sat down and asked, “So what does being a good mother even look like?” Now I wake up every morning and try to not yell at anyone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s a lot more difficult than just “being a good mom,” but at least I know when I’ve actually done it.
4Peace and acceptance
We live in a culture that always wants more, and good people who genuinely want to grow are particularly susceptible to thinking that it’s not okay to be content with where they are. For a perfectionist, being at peace can be the hardest goal of all. It’s good to remember that there will always be ways to improve, and peace isn’t the kind of thing you have to earn, or something that falls onto your lap when you’ve finally reached all your other goals. If you can’t have peace where you are now, then you won’t have it later. No matter what you want to improve, you won’t like your life much if peace is missing.
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