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Perfection is crushing your goals (and not in a good way!)

Updated: Jan 17, 2022

Last week, in a conversation with a friend, she said something that I keep thinking about: “I’m not ready to share it until it’s perfect”. Part of my thoughts were ones of curiosity, but my brain also went to this thought: what if she never feels like it is perfect and does not share what she is creating? And I got a little sad, knowing that whatever she had created was already something I wanted to experience, and that I might not get to experience it at all.

We are so good at holding back on sharing our thoughts, ideas and creations because we are waiting for the perfect moment. Think about all the goals you have worked on and how many times did you wait for the perfect time, the perfect circumstance or the perfect scenario to start...I bet if you are like me, you have done that more times than you can count on one hand (or two!)

What if I told you that the perfection you are aiming for is actually keeping you from achieving your goals? Would you argue with me? I definitely argued with my coach about this one once or twice, until I allowed myself to really think about what she was saying and realized that my problem was not the goal I was setting, but the expectation I had about achieving it.

We are raised to "be the best", to get A's in school and to aim high, which all sound like great things to say, until you realize that those expectations have started to impact how you show up and how you work on your goals. If you are only willing to share your "A" work, is it really your best? Or are you so focused on being perfect, that you stop working on those big, audacious goals because you might (gasp!) fail along the way?

I had a teacher in high school who gave me a "C" on a paper and it was the first C I had ever received. So, I went and talked to her. I made my case about the paper and why it was better than a C, and her response was something like "you're capable of more than this, this is not A work from you". I was mad, and I responded that if she was blind grading the papers, it would have been an "A" and she said I was probably right. But, then she said something that has stuck with me for decades. She said "if I gave you an A because it was A work on average, you would always just stay average, and you would miss the opportunity to push yourself to do the work and achieve what you are capable of and more".

Now, I could have just been angry about the grade and the process, neither of which I could change, or I could decide that I would focus less on the perfection of an A, and more on deciding how I could keep showing up to achieve better. As a high school teenager, I probably did not learn that lesson as deeply as I could have at the time, but I think about that experience every time I am struggling to let go of perfection and I remind myself that I turned into a better writer and a better learner from that C than I ever would have been just getting A's.

That's the thing about goals - Dan Sullivan calls them strategic by-products, but often what we learn along the way to our goals can have as much impact, or more, than just reaching the goal itself. For example, if you are trying to get that promotion at work? Think about the relationships you build as you explore the opportunity, the projects you get to work on as people see your interest in growing and the results you create as you take what you are learning and apply it to where you are. Those are all outcomes that would not have happened if you were not trying to get the promotion, those are strategic by-products of your goal.

So, instead of focusing on doing it 'perfectly', ask yourself: "if I really want to crush my goals (in the best way!), how do I let go of perfection and embrace the whole process?" That simple question can shift how you look at your goals and can redefine how you see progress, not perfection, as the ultimate goal.

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