How Much Imperfection Can We Live With?

I’ve been thinking about perfection these days. As a society, we seem to want it all. We want everything open. We don’t discriminate between schools and airplanes.

And, several people have written to me, saying they want to be perfect in some or many areas of their lives.

I wish I was perfect. Not only am I imperfect, I doubt I can be perfect. Not in everything.

That everything is part of the problem.

I (and you) can achieve perfection or something close if we concentrate our efforts in one or two areas. We can’t achieve perfection in everything.

So, I choose where I want to try for perfection. That means I choose where I will not be perfect. And, I might need to change some of my rules.

Where Can We be Perfect?

My younger daughter was a gymnast for many years (from age 4 or so until 17). She was not on the Olympic track, so she only had 6 hours of gymnastics a week. Yes, only. I think the Olympic track was closer to 20+ hours a week.

As an amateur, she was pretty good. Better, she enjoyed the workouts and the meets.

She was close-to-perfect as an amateur gymnast. She was too imperfect for the Olympic track.

I write a lot—more than 20+ hours a week. I use the feedback I gain from each piece to inform my next piece of writing. You notice I publish regularly. Some of my pieces receive comments, some don’t.

I am a good writer. I’m not sure if anyone can achieve perfection in writing. However, I continue to achieve perfection in my writing process. My process allows me to publish regularly.

I recognize that I fall short of perfection in my personal relationships (wife, mother, etc.). That makes me human, and I continue to work on my relationships.

Where Do We Choose Imperfection?

I choose to work towards perfection in my writing, speaking, and all the other pieces of my consulting business. That means I have plenty of areas I don’t look for perfection. Instead, I try for acceptable competence.

I don’t rank my choices—instead, I ask this question:

How much more will my life improve if I focus on practice in this area?

That might not be the right question for you, but it works for me.

That question has helped me choose what to focus on and practice. I continue to practice with my relationships.

And, the practice is not enough. I need to do something about my feelings of imperfection. That’s when I realize I need to address my attachment and perfection rules.

Consider a Rule Transformation

If you haven’t yet read Are You Attached to the Process or the Outcome? you might rethink where you are in your quest for perfection. Instead of “perfection,” I create interim goals that allow me to attach to an outcome. I sometimes need a Rule Transformation to do so. (See Do Your Rules Prevent You From Solving Problems? for an example of a rule transformation.)

I consciously choose which imperfections to live with and which to address. I do wish that as a society, we would all make more conscious choices.

That’s the question this week: How much imperfection can we live with?

5 thoughts on “How Much Imperfection Can We Live With?

  1. Jim Grey

    I’m a recovering perfectionist. What I know about my perfectionism is that it’s a way to buffer against my fears.

    About 20 years ago I started working on letting go of perfectionism. What helped me like nothing else was starting my blog and figuring out how to publish as often as I wanted to. I couldn’t achieve perfection on every post if I wanted to say everything I wanted to say.

    Along the way I read Anne Lamott’s great quote: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

    Shitty first drafts. I try to look at life that way now. Every time I approach something, especially something new, I try to think about how do I get to the equivalent of the shitty first draft. That frees my mind. Rather than trying to worry it into full perfection right out of the gate I get it to basically done and okay enough, and iterate. Iteration is freeing.

    1. Johanna Post author

      I agree, the “shipping” is key for me. While I sort-of like Lamott’s ideas about perfectionism, I stopped with the idea of a “shitty first draft” long ago. I learned several things: when I wrote clean, I wrote faster. I don’t fix typos as I go. I try to write without typos. I still have to rearrange–which is much easier if I write the whole thing, start to finish and I can read all the ideas.

      I agree, get to basically done and then iterate.

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