Sometimes there is this feeling that you are settling when something is good enough. Like you left some money on the table or you aren’t trying to be an over achiever. But it turns out that good enough will make you happier, satisfied, and content. In Tal Ben-Shahar‘s book, Pursuit of Perfect, there is a big price to pay for the constant striving for perfection. The author paid the price while attending Harvard. Anything less than an “A” was failure, so he worked constantly to make sure he could maintain his perfection. And the price? He wasn’t happy. When you are constantly striving for perfection, you never get to the destination. You think you are but you never arrive. That’s if great success is supposed to be a college degree, making your first million or finally getting married. You might hit a bump in happiness, but the next day, you are back on the perfection treadmill.
I am amazed at how many of us are out there on that treadmill. Beating ourselves up for every B- paper, one pound gained or bad hair day. We are ever vigilant to find out how we failed and how we did not attain success. The constant interior score card. “I should have stayed late”, “I can’t believe I ate the chocolate cake,” or “I never spend enough time with my kids.” It’s the constant balancing act of being all things to all people. I remember thinking I was stretched in college between school work, my social life and my part-time job. That was way before email, smart phones and the digital deluge made you feel overwhelmed, let alone children, aging parents, full-time jobs and a spouse. Ben-Shahar had some great points on how to achieve good enough and to embrace being human.
Here are some ideas on how to be OK with good enough:
1. Accept. We need to accept the good with the bad. The problem is that we tend to over react and ruminate over the failures. In focusing on all that went wrong, we gloss over what went right. I can tell you ever bad training I’ve facilitated but will forget the successes. I remember everything the boss didn’t approve but when it comes to the laundry list of things she has approved, they are buried deep, never to see the light of day. I can’t tell you how many people can’t take a compliment. I say “I love that necklace!” Co-worker “This old thing? My mom bought it from a street vendor in Mexico. I don’t think it’s worth 5 bucks.” We are hard-wired to reject the good and focus on the bad. Accept what is good in your life.
2. Open. Be open to feedback. Perfectionists want to maintain a façade of perfection. They deflect criticism. They hide from it for fear they will crumble. If you seek out feedback from both good and bad experiences, you become more resilient. I seek out feedback from both coaching clients and training participants. I embrace and accept the “That was great, Cathy” and the “I felt rushed” comments equally. I find that people who aren’t open to feedback tend to get paranoid. They are afraid that everyone dislikes them which makes them even more fearful of feedback. Really? There aren’t that many people that are unilaterally disliked (i.e. Madoff, Hussain, etc.). But they are so busy preserving their self-image that they can’t make course corrections like “being a better listener” or “you could delegate more clearly” along with the “you have a great sense of humor” and “that meeting took courage”. Open up to it all.
3. Release. Try and release that you need to be all things to all people all the time. I have to admit that this has been a struggle. This is especially difficult during the holidays. There was a time when I baked 20 different types of holiday cookies with my then small children (they weren’t that helpful and there was a lot of raw cookie dough consumed) and delivered them to all my employees at the restaurant I owned. All the burnt, dented and mal formed cookies befell my stomach and the rest of the “perfect” cookies were given to all my deserving employees. While this was a very noble gesture, it was completely impractical and made me very anxious every Christmas as my kitchen filled with hundreds of cookies, my kids did not have my full attention, and I become overwhelmed. I am wiser now. I instead put out about a third of the holiday decorations, walk right past the chocolate chips at the grocery store and give a card to my employees. To be good enough means to release the unrealistic expectations.
4. Allocate. Find ways to reasonably allocate your time. Perfectionist are looking ways to maximize their day to try an accomplish EVERYTHING. When they don’t? They are crushed by the failure. Be realistic. Can you really take the dog for a walk, work 10 hours a day, make dinner, take your daughter to ball practice, do the laundry, read a novel, AND run for 2 miles? No. You can’t. OK, you can for maybe one day out of the week but you will be toast by the end of the day. Toast. Figure out how much time you want to spend in a given week on everything that is important to you and then back off about 30%. So if you want a date night with your spouse every week, go out every other. If you want to get that project done at work, schedule an hour every day instead of trying to plow through it in a day and a half. Knowing that you have allocated the time and will be able to have an adult conversation with your spouse at least every other week will feel great, and make sure it actually happens instead of feeling guilty that you couldn’t do it all. Allocate your time.
5. Mono-task. Multitasking is exhausting and it’s really just task switching. You aren’t really texting and driving, you are driving, then texting, then driving, then texting, then driving (then crashing). When you spend your day talking on the phone while answering email or watching TV while eating dinner, you are numbing yourself to the world. You are not present and it is completely unsatisfying. So decide you are going to text, and sit down and text. Talk to your brother on the phone and turn off the television. Go out to dinner with your son and put your cell phone in your pocket. You’ve decided where you want to allocate your time, so go be present for that time. Embrace mono-tasking.
The interesting thing is there are certain pockets of our lives that we reserve for perfection. For me, it has been my coaching and facilitation work. It was wonderfully freeing to me when my coach mentor, Satyam Chalmers, said that there was no perfect question. If a question falls flat, your presence is more important than finding the perfect question. Whew. What a relief. It’s the same for facilitation. I can feel like I haven’t followed the “script” but going with the flow of the room is much more important. I’m good enough and enjoying the work so much more.