Hi, my name is Karan and I am a recovering perfectionist. There, I said it, despite it never exactly being a secret. None of us are born perfectionists and I understand now, at the ripe old age of ... errr... 21 [ahem], why I developed these behaviour drivers in the first place. Let's just say life shapes us all.
Perfectionism is a fools errand. Perfection is an illusion and cannot possibly be achieved, partly because it's subjective; what I may consider perfection, you may consider deeply flawed. Perfectionism will drive you to sweat blood for no more return on your time and energy investment, than exceptional would have afforded you. This is why I now drive towards exceptional rather than "perfection".
Many years ago I watched a mature man kneel for hours - in clear discomfort - over his front lawn, intricately digging out minute, barely perceptible weeds. Whilst he would always know his lawn was flawless, the rest of the world saw a well tended patch of grass. Obviously he was working for his own personal satisfaction, and that's fine (who are we to judge?), but I felt a little sad he didn't have more fulfilling things to do with his time. Then again this is from my perspective not his; perhaps this extreme weeding was his personal nirvana ... but we're here to talk about you.
BE THE EXCEPTION
In my line of work as a Small Business Mentor, Personal Development Life Coach and Young Person's E-mentor for The Prince's Trust, I meet a lot of people meeting challenges in their life and work. So many of them are inspired with great ideas, but give up before they even try, because they crush themselves under the misconception that it all needs to be perfect and fabulous a) at all and b) straight away. This is unbearable and unnecessary pressure. Continue thinking like this and you'll put yourself on the fast track to irredeemable failure for sure.
My advice to anyone is this: aim for being the exception, because being exceptional will separate you from average, and who on earth wants to be average? Who raised their hand as a child and said they wanted to grow up to be average, mediocre and meh ... anyone? I'm guessing your classmates were much the same as mine, and we all wanted to be doctors, nurses, police officers, fire fighters, astronauts - well, heroes basically - and heroes are exceptional.
Some people can become so paralyzed by the fear of failing, they choose to stay cushioned in a stagnant comfort zone bubble, never venturing out to even try. These people will never live more than a mere fraction of their potential, and this is a criminal waste and misuse of their inherent talents in my opinion. If only they would train their cross hairs on reality, rather than their imaginary ideals, they could really set the world alight with their brilliance.
Rather than bogging yourself down in the insane pursuit of "perfection", focus instead on simply being better than yesterday. Imagine your goal (i.e.: starting a business, writing a book, training for a marathon, losing weight) as a huge staircase, and you're standing at the foot of those stairs. Now look up at all the steps you have to take to reach the goal, daunting isn't it? That's a lot of work.
If you wake up every morning and think about your Big Picture Goal in its entirety, it's natural you're going to want to hide under the duvet. Even though somewhere intellectually you know you don't have to get to the top today, all you can see is the amount of work and effort ahead of you. Our instincts want to protect us when we feel threatened, and we either Fight or take Flight in response.
So what I want you to focus on today is Step 1, that's it. Focus only on the first step of the staircase, and complete Step 1 to the best of your ability. You're going to give Step 1 your full attention, and 100% wellie, all day. When you go to bed at the end of Day 1, you're going to be able to look back and know you could not have given Step 1 any more than you have. You have wrung every last drop of potential out of this Step, and this day. Then replenish your mind, body and spirit soundly, in readiness for Day 2, Step 2.
You can guess what's coming next, surely? On Day 2 focus only on Step 2, and you give that 100% wellie as well. However, in as many ways as possible, you have to be actively looking for ways in which to improve upon your best efforts from yesterday. For example: if you achieved your goal of walking 10,000 steps yesterday, walk 10,010 today. If you made 20 prospecting sales calls yesterday, make 21 sales calls today. If you wrote three pages of your book yesterday, write four today. Then rinse and repeat this working philosophy for Day 3/Step 3 and so on.
Be the exception and be better than yesterday
By pushing yourself forwards in smaller, non-terrifying and incremental steps every day, you reach your goal without being burnt out and fried when you get there. I have known too many people who have spent their youth, health and fitness running to the top of their game, only to be too sick, exhausted and burnt out to enjoy it when they got there. You must pace yourself, and incrementalism is the key.
Perfectionism steals your time. You spend so much time, attention and energy perfecting and polishing that you're reluctant - or unable - to let go and move onto to whatever is next. This is a fear-based decision making, it's not healthy and it will hold you back. Your focus should be trained on being the exception and taking the next step. How else are you ever going to climb onwards and upwards? You can't climb if you're standing still, looking back, editing and polishing endlessly. Better than good is good enough.
PROGRESS IS A PROCESS, NOT AN EVENT
Almost everyone who is trying to accomplish something becomes frustrated at the apparent lack of progress, or the speed in which progress is being made. I spoke with a mentee, Marie, earlier this week who expressed frustration with her apparent lack of progress during 2017. Knowing Marie's circumstances very well, my eyes almost hit the opposite wall in surprise, so I led her almost month-by-month through the steps she has made this year, highlighting her life-changing (yes, life changing) accomplishments.
Marie was frustrated because, despite the huge life-change she's instigated, she's not where she wants to be, financially speaking. This is where Life tricks us, but it's an optical illusion. We feel the passing of time, but think we're getting nowhere fast, however when we look back (month-by-month) we can be amazed by how far we have come.
As I reminded Marie, progress is a process, not an event. At the beginning of 2017, Marie was employed as X, now she is self-employed as Y. However, it's not just about her transition from X to Y, it's about who she has become in the process of this transition. I gave Marie an analogy involving Michelangelo's David.
David began life as a 14ft high block of marble, which Michelangelo systematically shaped over years, to become the exquisite work of art we see today. Thankfully Michelangelo didn't become frustrated after 11 months of toil, having perhaps carved out an inch of hairline (I'm not a sculpture artist, I don't know these things), and thought to himself: "You know, I really thought I'd have carved out an intricately detailed David from this huge block of marble by now ... sod it, I'm going to quit!"
Whatever your goal is, please remember the steps you take to shape your world will take time. If you're truly aiming for David-esque exceptional, you're not going to achieve it in your lunch break. Lean into the reality of what you're doing and accept the time it will take you. After all, the time will pass anyway, so you may as well put it to the best possible use.