Persistence NOT Perfection

Imperfect spider web with words Persistence NOT Perfection

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.”

– Walter Elliot

Those of you who follow me on Instagram or LinkedIn will know I recently posted on the topic of Perfection. My post addressed how perfection can paralyze us. It is unachievable and it is unreasonable. Yet, we often expect the highest of standards from ourselves, our family, and our co-workers.

How many times have we told ourselves we are not doing enough? We should be doing more. We should be farther along. Often, we project this expectation onto our family. Why doesn’t Elijah get this math problem? I already went over this with him. It happens at work as well. The results of this new campaign are not coming in fast enough. Who is to blame? Why aren’t the numbers matching the projections?

How is that working out for you? I am stressed just looking at that last paragraph!

Perfection Hurts Us

A friend told me a story of going to the ice rink on the weekends to bring her 7-year-old son to skating lessons. Since class was held at the local hockey rink the parents were encouraged to stay and watch from the bleachers. After the lesson, families reunited in the locker room to help with unlacing skates and hear how things went for their child. While listening to and sharing in her own son’s excitement, my friend heard another equally delighted boy on the next bench ask his dad if he saw him skate backward. “I went backward, dad! Did you see me? Wasn’t that cool!?”

“Yea, I saw you. I saw you fall down a lot. You were a mess out there. Don’t you want to be a great hockey player someday? You better get with the program.”

Dad’s response ended all conversation between them and totally squashed the boy’s enthusiasm for his gain that day. (My friend said she was able to catch the boy’s eye and shared that she was so happy to see he had skated backward and what a great feeling that must be. She told him she hoped he was proud of himself.)

This parent-child exchange is a classic example of how perfectionism can harm us and perhaps was instilled in us from a very young age. It wasn’t enough that the little boy had learned something new and was pleased with himself, he was expected to please his father and live up to his dad’s standards. Love and recognition based on performance. How sad.

Trying to meet someone else’s high bar of acceptable performance can carry through from childhood to behaviors in our adult life. This can be witnessed in adults who are continually looking for (or trying to be) the perfect mate. It is seen in the college students or employees who work themselves to exhaustion to please a teacher or a boss. And it is visually apparent in the person seeking the perfect body. These obsessions can lead to divorce, burnout, and bulimia.

In an article on WebMD about overcoming perfectionism, they list additional mental health and lifestyle issues that can arise from this unhealthy pursuit. Some of these include stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), procrastination, relationship problems, and low self-esteem.

Put Away the Mask

“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.

– Joseph Campbell

Superman and Superwoman are comic book characters. Unless you possess super-human strengths like these DC heroes you should not expect super-human results. In other words, embrace who you are and let the world see you – flaws and all.

This is easier said than done since we make ourselves vulnerable when we take off our masks.

There are some areas we can address to help us move past this need for perfection and be our true selves. One place to start is overcoming our fear of failure. Fear of failure, like the need for perfection, can stop us from growing and reaching our goals. (See last month’s blog Stop Fighting Failure for more on this topic).

It is amazing how closely fearing failure and chasing perfection are linked. Both attempt to hide feelings of inadequacy or insecurity, and both want to control outcomes.

“When we feel that our life is spiraling out of control, one way to deal with this overwhelming feeling is to seek control in other areas. Striving for perfection is one defense mechanism to deal with great uncertainty. If we can’t control the world and our circumstances, then we may seek to control ourselves.” – Anne Windermere, Why Some People Crave Perfection

Another issue that affects our need to be perfect is the desire to please and be accepted by others. This path leads us to a life of self-judgment and placing too much value on the opinion of others. Instead of looking to our parents, friends, spouse, or employer, we need to value our own self-worth and not judge ourselves through an outside lens. In recent years, with the continual rise of time spent on social media, we have even placed our self-worth in the hands of total strangers.

But let’s remember, perfection is an unattainable human aspiration!

Isn’t there a better way to move closer to our goals?

The Power of Persistence

“A champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.

– Serena Williams

Encyclopedia Britannica defines persistence as “the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people.”

What often separates those who succeed in life from those who are just getting by is persistence. Persistence is your secret weapon in moving out of ‘perfectionville’ and finding your success as a regular human being. Taking the missteps in stride and moving ahead through a series of determined small steps can increase your confidence. Every small step achieved will fuel our belief that we can achieve our goals. Perfection is not needed.

Podcaster and Business Success Coach Anne Bachrach posted a list of ways to stay persistent to achieve your goals. Among her suggestions is to view setbacks as life lessons. This makes it much easier to accept mistakes and move on.

She also recommends thinking creatively so we don’t become fixated on one path to a goal. This opens up a world of options and perhaps an easier route to success!

Other authors on this subject propose making a clearly defined goal, maintaining an equitable work-life balance, and being realistic about what is possible.

Becoming Imperfect

“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone.

– Louis L’Amour

Technology has contributed to the widespread urge for the perfect life. When surfing the web it seems as if every moment of our existence is displayed for all to see. Where we work, how we dress, and what possessions we own are plastered all over TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and more. The ability to compare and contrast our life journeys is as easy as the click of a mouse.

Now, add to that the swipe right or left apps where snap judgments on appearance are driving if we are acceptable to meet another human! How are we ever to feel good enough?”

A quick Google search on the negative effects of social media on mental health will bring a wealth of results. One way to improve our own mental well-being is by corralling our need for perfection. Start by reminding yourself that everything you see on the internet is not true. Most of it is a marketing strategy to get you to want or buy something.

Keep in mind that people online tend to protect themselves and not share the hardships or mistakes they make. In other words, much of what is on the internet is a reality shaped to show you only what the other person wants you to know. When you are reading about yet another exotic vacation your friends are taking you probably won’t be reading about the 2nd DUI their son got last week or the crack that has appeared in their marriage. Their life may look perfect so it will help to realize that others are struggling as well. We are so entrenched in our own heads that we forget that others are imperfect too.

A blog on Penn Medicine News discussed how social media feeds into perfectionism. The blog refers to the stress brought on through social media by the need for “Likes.” The acronym FOMO comes up – Fear Of Missing Out. Adolescents are growing up with these unrealistic views of how life ‘should be’ and becoming adults who fear making any mistakes and thus lose out on opportunities for the personal growth that come with failure. The warning from this research is that perfectionism “can drain the quality of life.”

In striving for the perfect life we may be sabotaging ourselves. What can we do about it?

Repeat After Me, “I’m Just Human”

“For all humans, perfection is an unreachable goal, and this is true of our relationships, as well.

– Juli Geske Peer, 5 Senses for Success: Strategies to Thrive in Any Arena

Making the shift away from perfectionist is a worthy goal. You owe it to yourself to take the pressure off. None of us have control over exactly how things will turn out, but we do have control over the manner in which we pursue our goals. Aiming for a more persistent versus perfect approach is a good place to begin.

If making this change for yourself is not reason enough, just think of all the ways you will improve your relationships with others. They will appreciate meeting the less stressed you and experiencing you as more present in their lives.

To get you started today on the shift towards persistence and away from perfection, here are a few practices to adopt:

  1. Reduce your time on social media. Not only will you lower your exposure to potentially mind-stressing images and stories, but you will also increase your time for more worthwhile activities and healing rest.
  2. Sit down and list the values you cherish most. Then make a simple plan on how to reach goals that fit within those values. Make the steps towards your goal small and achievable so you can see your progress.
  3. Stop to acknowledge and celebrate successes – even the smallest ones. This helps us live in the present and enjoy every moment. It also energizes us to take the next step.
  4. Stay flexible. Part of persistence toward a desired outcome is to accept that there will be ups and downs. You may need to change your plans or scrap an idea entirely and start over. Fresh starts are fine and we can learn from what didn’t go well and apply those lessons as we move forward.
  5. Enjoy the ride! This reminder to have fun may sound silly but mindset plays a significant role in determining life’s outcomes. A Stanford University report on mindset by Dr. Jacob Towery notes “The exciting news about mindsets is that they are absolutely changeable.” We have the ability to shift from a fixed mindset to one of growth.

Moving away from chasing perfection can be a life changer. When you know you have done everything you can, then relax, feel good about yourself, and see where your imperfections take you.

JuliGeskepeer, #PersistencenotPerfection, #bepresent, #beimperfect, #expectatons, #wearehuman, #Success, #2022success, #successinanyarena, #successfulleaders, #acceptance, #leadership, #juligeskepeerauthor


Award-Winning Finalist in the 2022 International Book Awards!

The best tools we have to reach our goals come from within. Your senses can become your strategy and your roadmap to becoming a successful leader. Please take a moment to explore my book, 5 Senses for Success: Strategies to Thrive in Any Arena. I am very proud to share these approaches and truly achievable practices that were born out of my own life and career experiences and strategic research. Each of us has it within us to achieve success and create healthier relationships within ourselves and with others

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Juli Geske Peer is a leadership, relationship, and accountability strategist whose professional credentials include two academic degrees, mediator training, train-the-trainer certification, two coaching certifications, numerous other learning and certification accomplishments, and now, author!

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