Let’s talk about your perfectionism. I know it’s there, because you’re interested enough in improving something about your life that you’re visiting this wonderful website! But if you want to lead a happy life, you need to accept less than perfection.
Unless you are working for NASA and building a million-dollar door handle for a spaceship, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
This is something I’ve learned over many years of 1) working full-time while being a wife, mother, and now grandmother, 2) being a human, and 3) sending 183 Chicken Soup for the Soul books to the printer, every single one with invisible typos that do not show up until we’ve printed at least 50,000 copies.
I’ve learned that muddling through life accepting that I will always operate at somewhere between 90 and 95 percent is about as good as it gets.
If I can do three things well (but not perfectly) at any given time – and 90% is still pretty impressive – that’s a total score of 270 points of “getting stuff done” versus spending hours or days obsessing over one thing and getting it 99% perfect but dropping the ball in a major way on the other two. I get 270 points my way, versus 99 points the striving-for-perfection way.
Like most people, I have juggled many different full-time roles in my life – the main three being mother, wife, and executive. There were never enough hours in the day to fulfill each role as completely as I wanted when I was raising my kids.
There were nights when the kids needed me to stay home and help with homework, but I had to attend a business dinner with my husband. There were other nights when he got the short end of the stick, because I needed to put the kids first. And if I somehow managed to do all the kid stuff and husband stuff, then the work stuff would suffer.
A wonderful psychologist and expert on stress management named Harriet Braiker wrote the breakthrough book, “The Type E Woman: How to Overcome the Stress of Being Everything to Everybody.” Harriet said: “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.”
Women in particular, with all their multitasking, really need some help in letting go. Does anyone actually remember if you made everything yourself the last time you entertained, if your thank-you notes were emails or notecards, or if you’ve sent out Christmas cards every year without fail?
One of my favorite Chicken Soup for the Soul stories on this topic is “The Power of Illusion,” in which Donna Milligan Meadows talks about her friend Sara, who had the perfect home, with a beautifully wallpapered living room.
Donna was lamenting that her own wallpaper didn’t line up at the seams and wasn’t straight at the ceiling. Sara responded, “It’s all an illusion. The details don’t matter. Look at my seams; they aren’t perfect either. There is a tear over in the corner. You did your wallpaper yourself so you know every spot that isn’t exactly right. No one else will see the mistakes, just like you didn’t see mine.”
Years later, Donna was days away from hosting her daughter’s wedding in her perfectly landscaped backyard, where the flowers even matched the wedding color scheme. Then the rains came. The grass developed a fungus and mushrooms sprouted everywhere. Donna was panic-stricken until she remembered Sara’s gentle voice saying: “It’s all an illusion. The details don’t matter.”
The wedding ended up being perfect, or at least the “perfect illusion of a fairy tale wedding in a magical place,” according to Donna.
And that’s why we try for perfection every day, knowing we will achieve mere excellence and that will be good enough. My editors tell me that our “good enough” is better than everyone else’s “perfection” anyway, and that may be true, since I am constantly spotting typos or grammar errors in such venerable publications as The New Yorker magazine and The New York Times and bestselling novels.
Nevertheless, we do appreciate it when our readers send us emails telling us where those typos are hiding, so we can fix them for the second printing!
Are you too much of a perfectionist? Can you pick a part of your life where you can accept less than perfection? Do you think you’ll be happier and less stressed if you deliberately try for 90% instead of 100%?
Tags Finding Happiness