Stop Trying To Be Perfect

March 10, 2014

Although I was raised in Australia, my upbringing was predominantly influenced by Asian values which meant that much of my early childhood involved rote learning to ensure my knowledge, my test scores and my approach to everything was flawless. It was ingrained into my mind that there was no room for mistakes and once one was made, it would impact the rest of my education path and subsequently my career prospects. Dramatic? Yes. Effective? Yes. I cannot even count the number of times I have ripped out pages in my school workbooks because I had made a spelling mistake with the heading and did not want to cross it out or use correction tape. Even the smallest errors were not acceptable and I was scared into achieving the best for myself. Now do not get me wrong – striving for perfection is most definitely not a bad thing when but when you pressure yourself with only that end goal in mind (which is usually the case with perfectionists), you often forego everything else which is important in the process.

In my first job interview after I graduated from university, I successfully passed the first few rounds of individual sessions before sitting in front of a panel of five being posed the question, “Tell us about your biggest failure”. Up until that point, all my well rehearsed answers about my academic and extra-curricular activities in relation to being a perfect team player with great leadership skills had served me well but at that point, I was genuinely stumped. The interviewer repeated the question and the only answer I could muster was to describe a Mathematics exam where I had achieved below average. Needless to say, I did not proceed any further in that process – I had failed. What struck me at that point was how much I had missed out on because I had tried so hard to be perfect and it made me rethink my approach to my life.

What struck me at that point was how much I had missed out on because I had tried so hard to be perfect and it made me rethink my approach to my life.

How had I managed to avoid failures in my life? Simply by focussing my time and energy into a task until there was no room for error. This meant a couple of things. I stifled my own creativity by placing such a rigid expectation on the end goal and it discouraged or completely removed any prospect of new approaches or the implementation of new ideas. I let opportunities pass me by because I would either take too long to make the perfect decision or just wait for the perfect opportunity to come along. Of course, my biggest missed opportunity was the lack of learning – everyone is constantly learning at a steady pace but the more often and earlier you make mistakes or fail, the faster you will learn to improve and change for the better.

The key, like most things in life, is to achieve a balance between aiming high and enjoying your work. Trying to be perfect means you are placing yourself into a high pressure bubble where you are constantly stressed about your output. This not only impacts yourself and your happiness as an individual, but also that of your greater team. If you have ever played in a competitive team sport, you may have experienced moments where you are one point away from achieving your personal best, but you needed to pass the baton over to a team mate for the greater good of the team. Sometimes, if you are focussed solely on your path to perfection, you shut down any chance of collaboration, push away ideas which could otherwise have been more effective or efficient and draw a divide between yourself and the rest of your team.

It is not easy to move away from trying to be perfect and it takes a lot of guts to first fail before you learn but you will not only be happier for it, you will also be more successful. This is my first post and it definitely is not perfect but I enjoyed writing it and I welcome any comments!

Photo: Anthony/Flickr

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