Posts Tagged 'perfectionism'

Party Failure

Courtesy of RyanMorgan.ca

“STOP CELEBRATING FAILURE!”

The headline above a recent article from BusinessInsider.com grabbed my attention immediately. Having fallen short a lot, as we all do, I wondered what premise the author may be starting from.

Is it better to forget it?

I’ve seen some say so, but that invites more mistakes and misguided decisions. Blowing off unsavory outcomes could lead us to repeat the same action in search of a different result. As my pastor and mentor Steve Clifford once told me, “Sometimes wisdom is not putting your hand back in the fire.”

Really, though, who throws a party when things go wrong?

The key is to avoid mourning for an extended period or being possessed by shame and disappointment. Even the author admits what is occurring is “a wider appreciation that failure is an inherent part of innovation and taking risks,” an undercurrent of acceptance the prime demands of this web-enabled generation — better and faster — require more defeats than victories.

What is actually happening, then, is the abolition of perfectionism.

The idea is to allow people to come up short and do so openly, to brush aside the embarrassment and take another shot…and another….and another…and another, if necessary.

Further, encouraging people to make an effort engenders a spirit of cohesiveness, in which it is much less “easy for us to point fingers, to find blame, to gleefully critique the things that went wrong,” as Seth Godin writes in his new book Poke the Box. When everyone is allowed to swing for the fences, everyone is going to strike out more — but everyone will support each other more, too.

We walk a fine line in creating a culture which accepts failure “just right.”

Facilitating experimentation — giving people the freedom to explore uncommon concepts and create based on them — inevitably leads to dead ends and discouragement from time to time. Become too lax and the whole venture goes down the tube without any wins.

Making the most of undesired results, squeezing every lesson about the wrong (and right) out for future application, expands the possibility for a major breakthrough — one that will, with persistence and consistency, certainly arrive.

Then we throw the party.

After all, there is a time to celebrate failure: when we’ve succeeded.

The Effect of Perfectionism

Perfectionism crushes self-esteem.

It’s the natural result of expecting unblemished excellence. Repeatedly falling short of an unattainable standard shreds paper-thin confidence.

Your wounds are far more severe because they are self-inflicted.

Your scars run deep, hidden because they arise from violent slashes from within. You cut away all that is good with surgical precision thinking you are bad. When you look in the mirror, you can only find more reasons you’re unworthy.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Your perception becomes your reality, all because you measured yourself in hindsight. You stacked up every step along the way and figured out all the wrong turns…after they happened. Like the finest armchair quarterback, you go about dissecting every instance where you might have gone a different direction, forgetting an important fact:

“Should” is a dirty word.

It negates the misinformation guiding past decisions, as though you might have clearly seen every future outcome.

It brushes aside the truth that most–if not all–your choices are based on the best intentions.

It begs the past to be remade into a new present, holding tight to “might have been” instead of accepting “already is.”

It implies “someone better” would have acted another way, lamenting inadequacy while ignoring the opportunity to learn and improve.

Why must you be intolerant of your own mistakes?

What requires you to be more accurate in your conclusions and performance than anyone else?

Is it anything other than your own ridiculous ideal?

Everybody fails because ambition invites defeat.

Great achievement comes only at the end of a persistent battle–after mountains have been climbed and rivers crossed. The ability to maintain focus and persevere is incompatible with a desire to remain flawless. The chances you’ll travel the long road between “here” and “there” unstained by defeat are slim.

Become comfortable with the idea, as it sharpens your will for the hours and days (maybe even months and years) ahead.

The first–and most crucial–victory is often over yourself.

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Perfectionism is a foul illness.

I’ve been thinking about the severity of its side effects this morning, pondering the long-term results of believing “flawless” is necessary when “good enough” will do.

As someone in the final stages of conquering the tendency, I’m well aware of the gut-wrenching pain it creates.

The thing is, I think it often arises out of the depth of our conviction. I think, overtaken by the power of our emotion, we wish to ensure our creation is a painstakingly accurate representation of the ideal we have in our head, an immaculate reflection of our cherished belief.

In focusing our intent on producing something unequaled, we either fritter away hours consumed by miniscule details or–fearing our abilities are inadequate for the task–quietly ignore the impulse to create.

We easily forget the price of success is paid by hours of unfruitful labor.

Albert Einstein finalized general relativity about sixteen years after he developed special relativity…and only after he learned his calculations were being refined by a more industrious mathematician.

Thomas Edison found thousands of ways not to invent a light bulb, demonstrating the “decision and revision” process (combined with a healthy will to keep going) required to achieve goals.

Living is more like golf than archery.

Instead of being scored based on the number of bullseyes you hit, you’re doing your best to finish the hole with as few shots as possible. It’s a series of attempts at a target, then heading off for the next one after the first is reached.

As you improve, getting “there” takes less effort.

What’s most important is training your eye on an object worth the effort because, as Henry David Thoreau wrote,

In the long run men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, though they should fail immediately, they had better aim at something high.”

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Time is valuable and we waste a lot of it.

I will admit to being an offender. I am an expert at putting off items on my “to do” list that rank low on my fun scale. As with everyone else, motivation is linked to interest and both wane quickly when a mundane task comes up.

When my brain flat out refuses to pull everything together like a teenager struggling to get out of bed on Monday morning, I like to ask myself three questions to figure out why there’s a problem:

Are you afraid something else requires your attention?
Resist the temptation to confuse this with having something you would rather do. We all have that problem and it’s simply a matter of finishing the task at hand regardless of the strain necessary.

This question asks you to understand the priorities of your business and/or life. Do you have to pay bills? Is it bath time for your child? Your project has to fit around and between these events. Fill the remaining time with work towards your goal. Regardless of whether it’s organizing a few notes or pounding out several hundred words, you’ll feel better to have accomplished something.

Are you afraid to start?
Any undertaking, regardless of size or novelty, brings a certain amount of jitters. It’s natural to feel a little overwhelmed and wonder if you know what you’re getting yourself into.

“How long will it take?”

As long as it takes.

“Will it be difficult?”

Yes, you’ll get bogged down or feel lost sometimes.

“What if I don’t finish?”

You’ll never know unless you start. Break the task into manageable chunks and it will be completed before you know it.

Are you afraid to finish?
We have a tendency to think that we must do things perfectly instead of doing them well.  We hesitate to make a move for fear of being found out, having the world learn we’re some sort of fraud that actually knows little.

Think someone will call you out as a pretender? I’ve got news for you: you are. You’ll have to spend a lot of time acting like you know a lot until you actually do. In sports, they have another word for it: practice. It’s how anyone becomes elite at anything.

In idling when you could be building momentum, you make things exponentially more difficult for yourself.

You may be worrying about the nature of the outcome, whether  positive (“Will it get too big too fast?”) or negative (“What if it dies on the operating table?”). Perhaps you feel it has to be perfect before you let anyone see it. Instead of putting something out there for people to get their eyes and hands on, you hunch over your work bench–if you visit it at all–in the quest for the flawless article you believe fail-proof.

Knock it off.

Such a product–if it could even exist–is a recipe for failure. Something that never requires improvement can only be sold once…as opposed to something that’s “good enough to start,” which can be refined and upgraded to include things beyond conception when it was initially offered. Think of the old computers that only used floppy disks or cars that came without air conditioning.

Continued innovation leads to greater success.

The ability to adapt and improve is the basis for perpetual survival. In the animal kingdom and business world, natural selection determines what works best, what must be kept and what must be shed. That’s why we call lumbering behemoths of industry lagging behind the push of technology “dinosaurs.”

What are you waiting for? Why not take a step even if it’s only a little one?

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