Perfect? Oh, please….

Do you check your work a thousand times before you
let others see it?

Do you find yourself delaying your plans and
projects because they’re not yet exactly as you
want?

Are you trying to be perfect?

The noise of the morning show is in the
background.  They are discussing women’s shoes.
“They’re perfect”, she says, “There’s nothing like
it”.  It gets me thinking about perfection.  And
my belief that there really is nothing like it. 

When we strive for perfection, we fail, but only
100% of the time!

It feels like it was a hundred years ago.  About 3
o’clock in the morning and I was sitting at my
desk in my draughty apartment near the university.

The window frames and door in my room were so old
that no matter what I did I could not get warm in
the winter nor stay cool in the summer.  I was
sitting at my desk wearing 3 sweaters, a woolly
hat, scarf and finger-less gloves.

My books were spread out in front of me and around
my chair on the floor.

It may be a familiar scene.  You remember those
‘all-nighters’ having to get the paper finished by
10am the next morning.  Weeks of work crammed into
one caffeine filled night!

But I was stuck.
It wasn’t that I had not written a paper.  It was
that it was not good enough. 

I was a reasonably good student.  I took my work
seriously but not too seriously that I would miss
a chance to go out with friends!

When it came to deadlines, I always met them.
Sleep was less important, if something needed to
be submitted, I would work all night if necessary
and get it finished.

This time was different.  I had done the work, I
had researched the topic, I had written the paper.
It was a creative piece in my English Literature
studies and it simply was not good enough.

By 4am I was really desperate, not only was the
work ‘not good enough’ but I had no idea what to
do to make it better and I was running out of
time.

I stood up to stretch considering yet another cup
of coffee, trying to figure out what more I could
do on the paper;  but ended up lying on the couch
for just a moment.  Of course, I fell asleep and
woke up at 9.15am.

You know the rest of the story.  I handed in the
paper as was, I had no choice and I feared the
worst.  Of course, I got a completely reasonable
grade and passed the course with flying colors!

Years later, I understood that my striving for
perfection was only hurting me.  Trying to be
perfect is incredibly debilitating.  When we
self-judge negatively we end up producing nothing.

That’s not to say that we should not have
standards and high expectations.  I believe that
we should all do our best work and as often as
possible. 

But perfection is a dangerous goal.  It can never
be reached and only leaves us feeling frustrated,
unproductive and empty.

Next time you feel like your creative work is just
not good enough.  Stop.  Take a walk, maybe even
fall asleep.  But once you’ve taken some distance,
wake up to the knowledge that it is more than good
enough.  It is wonderful.  

It is exactly what you needed to create in that
moment.  You are everything you need to be. 

No one else can tell your story better than you. 
You are the expert in your own life and will
always be.  Wake up and shine!

If striving for perfection has been your path, I’d
love to hear how you handle it.  Please leave a
comment below!

And a very warm welcome to all the new subscribers
this week!

Best wishes and best stories

Lisa

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10 comments on “Perfect? Oh, please….

  1. Hi Lisa,

    Wow, can I ever relate to your story! I am currently finishing (yeah!!) my doctorate in business administration, and I am in the dissertation phase: essentially writing a book. I finished all the coursework with a pretty high grade point average, but not perfect 😉 During the last year of courses, I was getting very frustrated that my papers took so much time to write. With the help of my fantastic coach, I realized that my standards were so high, no one would notice if I came down a notch or two… Skeptical at first, I decided to put this theory to the test. For each paper, I cut my writing time from an entire week to two days. I kept cutting, and cutting, until I could do the research in one day, and the writing the next day. The best part was, I still got an A every time. This little exercise proved to me that I don’t need to strive for perfection because my work is good enough imperfectly. Now, I force myself to write within strict timelines because I know the result will be very good, even if I don’t work more. In fact, I now have more time, and I’ve started to learn to play the guitar. I gave myself the gift of time.

  2. I read somewheres that the cure for procrastination is to set a deadline. Well that’s the only way I got my (non-thesis) master’s – my professor was retiring, so if I didn’t hand in my paper… Of course I also spent all nighters on finishing the paper to be handed in by 9 A.M. One paper I had finished, but the professor said there wasn’t enough pages. So he gave me a day or so to complete a few more pages. That turned out to be my best work, as it was a subject I had a lot to say about. It was kind of a course I took for fun, “art and literature”. So I wasn’t pressured to get the perfect score. I did so well that they accepted me into the graduate dept. per that grade. Too bad I didn’t develop it into a long paper. So I was stuck with the professor who would be retiring that year, who was a real meanie, i.e., strict grader. Not only was he impatiently strict, the subject matter didn’t have much research resources. I.e., he wanted us to be able to think on our own and critically analyze independently of published sources. As an expert paraphraser, summarizer who usually gleans my material from various sources – I now had to write some 25 pages on a topic which I had chosen myself. I did manage to do so, got a fairly decent grade, and got my degree – but by the skin of my teeth. My best lines in my paper were those words churned out at around 2 A.M. – where I expressed my OWN opinion, thoughts about the subject – the modern male hero. I guess I do have potential. But my struggle to write merely 25 pages was gutwrenching. A thesis requires 100 pages. A doctorate 300 pages. But still – someday – maybe attainable?

  3. Lisa,
    I loved this piece. I can identify with the obsessive need to get it perfect. You are absolutely right trying for 100 perfection leads to failure and disappointment. We do need to do good work but lighten up on ourselves and know when we have done “good enough.”
    My Best,
    Davia

    • thanks Davia – there’s a wonderful parenting book called ‘the Blessing of a Skinned Knee’ that’s all about this concept of ‘good enough’ – I so believe it, we seem to be so driven by the strive to excellence that we lose track of simply getting stuff done. I’m always surprised by how much better and more creative I am when I left go of my need to make it ‘just right’!
      best wishes, Lisa

  4. I am hungry to hear more about this topic and how to let go of my own perfectionism. Maybe others are as well? Maybe you could take what you’ve started here and turn it into a book. I am really struggling with my own perfectionism. I love this article. Thank you.

  5. Career which is also my creative life (writing). I can see this affecting dating. (If I don’t look and act just so, no one will like me or want me.) I have a habit of constantly comparing myself to others, often without even realizing it. I think a lot of creative people die with their music and art still in them because they were afraid to put out something “not good enough.” There is definitely rich material here and you seem to be willing to mine it, so I encourage you to do so.

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