A corporate client of mine in the business of nuclear energy has a zero defects policy. Thank goodness, right!? Most of us, however, aren’t producing nuclear power. On a quality scale from awful to absolutely perfect, most of what’s required of us, on the job and in life, probably falls somewhere between “good enough” and “excellent.” Furthermore, research shows that perfectionism stifles creativity. Yet, so many strive for perfection habitually, leaving us unfulfilled and exhausted. Why? And how do we stop?
As many of us were growing up we were discouraged from making mistakes, or worse, punished for them. Through often well-meaning parents, religious institutions, and schools, we learned mistakes were bad. Striving to be perfect seemed the best way to avoid ridicule or punishment. The result? A habit of perfectionism. Like any bad habit, breaking it takes awareness and practice.
Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Paying attention to how you perceive and talk about mistakes may prove revealing. The Japanese tradition of “wabi-sabi,” considers flaws beautiful, desirable and the things that make something special. We choose whether to see imperfections, mistakes, errors or flaws as something to be avoided and/or punished for, or something to be cherished. Some of the greatest inventions were born of mistakes—imagine where we’d be without them!
There are many ways to practice non-perfectionism. For example, years ago, the instructor in a class I took gave us a handout riddled with typos, announcing boldly, “Typing is not my specialty.” Since then the phrase, “[Anything I’m not great at] is not my specialty,” has been a real liberator for me. Celebrate flaws, mistakes and mishaps and lighten the mood. After all, mistakes often make for entertaining stories down the road.
While certain errors can be costly or unacceptable, it’s good to remember that most of the time, excellent or even good enough will suffice. And the mistakes made along the way could even turn out to be better than the perfection you thought you wanted. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
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