Earlier this month, I celebrated my 45th birthday. No fanfare. No outlandish party. No extravagant presents. Just a quiet day that started like most with a run, and then time writing and editing. It ended like most days, too, with a home-cooked meal and a relaxing evening at home. Perfection!
As perfect as it was, it got me thinking … am I too much of a perfectionist? The expectations I’ve set for myself — in almost everything I do — are high. Unbelievably so. And when I fail … Lord, have mercy, you don’t want to be in my sights. Because I’m angry at myself for missing the mark, and that doesn’t make me nice to be around.
Is Imperfection All the Rage?
For some reason, I’ve come across lately a lot of writing on the idea of giving yourself over to imperfection. (Is that life speaking to me and am I willing to listen?) The concept is simple: that being imperfect can help you achieve your goals more than being perfect. James Clear explores this idea in his article, “Why Trying to Be Perfect Won’t Help You Achieve Your Goals (And What Will),” as does Ray Dalio in his book, Principles.
Letting go of my need to be perfect all the time sounds great in theory. Translating it into action is something else altogether. I get the point so many are trying to make. When we show up to practice our craft, the repetition of the habit will help us to hone our skills, learn from our mistakes and become better at what we do. That’s why I write every day. But sometimes we spend so much time trying to perfect one thing that we ‘stall.’ We really don’t move forward. As a writer, I don’t want to spend my life trying to write one perfect book when I could, hopefully, write many. And then my goal would be to make each book better than the one that came before it.
Here’s where I struggle with being imperfect. As a self-published writer, the idea of imperfection doesn’t sit well with me. I’m not naïve. My writing won’t appeal to everyone. And as artists, no matter how good we think something we created is, haters are still gonna hate. But in an already crowded and competitive field, my books are my brand. If I want to build an audience and a solid fan base, I know my books need to be ‘perfect.’ That’s why I’ve learned the importance of hiring a professional editor, proofreader, book cover designer, and formatter. Who wants to read something that comes across as a first draft that’s riddled with spelling and grammatical errors? Or where there are problems with character and plot development, continuity or story arc? So, as an indie author I do — unapologetically — aim for perfection.
But in other areas of my life, I am trying to let go of my need for perfection. Like running. There are days when I can run 10k at a pace of 5:02 per kilometre. Other days, it feels like a struggle and my pace, at 5:28 per kilometre, isn’t anything to brag about. I remind myself that it’s not a competition, which isn’t always easy when other runners speed past me on the trail. But I’ve shown up again, remaining committed to living a healthy and active life. In my interactions with my work colleagues, I’m relearning not to expect from others what I expect from myself. It’s not fair. I remind myself of the old saying I heard so often during my youth: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
The biggest lesson that’s come out of this idea of not being perfect is this: I’ve accepted that it’s okay for me to not be able to do everything I set out to do well. There are areas in my life when I excel (strengths) and others where I don’t (weaknesses). I’ve learned — and am still learning — that it’s okay to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean I’m weak. It means that there are people who have the skills to do well the things I’m not so good at. Why not ask for their help? No doubt, I’ll save myself a lot of time and frustration.
Letting go of perfection is a struggle because it means recognizing my limits, which can be extremely uncomfortable. It’s a journey that I’m taking day by day. It’s also about accepting who I am, as I am, imperfections and all.
As we navigate through life, doing what we love or are called to do, the most important thing we can do is be ourselves. And, to me, that looks like perfect imperfection.
Are you a perfectionist? Or are you striving for imperfection? Do you believe being imperfect could help you achieve your goals? Let me know in the comments section below.