About the Episode
“I have to be perfect! There’s no other choice!”
“I can’t screw up! People will think less of me!”
“If I’m not perfect, I’ve failed!”
Perfection is highly sought after, held as the ultimate standard, and comes with a steep price! What happens though when we aren’t perfect? We call ourselves names, we beat ourselves up, and we are harder on ourselves than ever before! The need to be perfect comes at a cost!
“But Steven, that’s how I’ve been successful – holding myself to excellence and being perfect!”
I hear you, and I don’t disagree! However, there is a way to do this AND alleviate all of the stress, negativity, and issues that arise when we fall short of perfection. This is the key difference between pursuing perfection and the need to be perfect; the pursuit of perfection comes with excellence AND the acceptance of our fallibility as human beings. When we make this shift, we not only can continue to execute at a high level, we also get better because we learn how to leverage our “failures” as growth opportunities to miss the mark less.
Join me as I break down how to embrace the pursuit of perfection and overcome the detrimental impact of the need to be perfect.
Welcome back everybody. To another episode of the G.R.I.T. – Give, Recognize, Implement, Time®, podcast. I’m your host, Steven Ironman. I’m very excited for this topic. It’s a question that’s come up a lot recently. So, today we’re going to talk about the pursuit of perfection versus the need to be perfect. What does that mean? A lot of times today we have this need to be perfect. I strive for perfection. I strive for excellence. I work hard. I want to succeed. I want to show people what I can do. I’ve got to get all of this done and it’s got to meet this standard that I hold for myself. We often want to be absolutely perfect in everything that we do.
What happens, however, when we’re not perfect? What happens when we don’t get something done? When we quote unquote fail, when we missed the mark, we beat ourselves up. We question, why can I be good enough? Why? Why am I this way? Why didn’t it work out? I need to do better. I should have done better. It shouldn’t happen. Come on, stupid. We may even call ourselves names. We beat ourselves up because we have the need to be perfect. It leaves absolutely no room for error. Perfection, by definition, everything all the time, always done a hundred percent correct to the expectations that we have. The issue that we see with this is exactly what we just talked about and what comes out. We are hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up. We get caught in a negative downward spiral on non-serving downward spiral that just eats away at us because we feel like there’s absolutely no wiggle room, no margin for error.
So when I get asked this question of how do we overcome that? What I do like to put back towards clients is this. I agree with the pursuit of perfection, not the need to be perfect because of what we just talked about. So let’s talk about the difference. Let’s talk about what the pursuit of perfection means. The pursuit of perfection is very similar. We strive for excellence. We want to hit the mark. We want everything to work out the way that we would like it to work. And we align all of our actions and our mentalities towards that pursuit of meeting that golf perfection.
The difference comes with acceptance, understanding, and self-compassion because while we are in pursuit of striving for that highest level of accomplishment, we recognize it’s the pursuit. I can strive for it. That is what I aim for. But, there’s an acknowledgement that happens that we are human. By definition, we are not perfect. We have a dual nature within us, the good, the bad, the negative positive. As you hear me call it, the serving and the no-serving. We don’t always hit the mark. Let’s use a sport analogy. For example, let’s talk about football. There’s literally one team one year in the entirety of the history of the national football league. Even before it was the NFL, that one team was perfect. Let’s think about that out of around a hundred years. I apologize. I forget exactly when football came into existence.
But I do know the Steelers were founded around 1933. So let’s take it a little bit before then, we’re close to a hundred years. I think if we look at that and we look at one single team, one year had a perfect season. The Miami dolphins. Does that not perhaps put it in perspective. Even if we look at the most recent example, when the Patriots, they went perfect in the regular season and in the playoffs until they lost the Super Bowl. They were not undefeated. Even in boxing, talk a lot about being undefeated, but eventually that loss comes.
Perfection is not a part of who we are a hundred percent of the time. That’s one of the hardest things perhaps to accept is that I am not always going to be perfect. And you know what, that’s okay. Because when I embrace that and I accept it and I give myself the understanding, I alleviate all that pressure and that stress and that non-serving energy that drains me when I miss the mark.
Now, I don’t have to be happy that I missed the mark, but there’s a difference between going, yeah, You know, I wish I would’ve done better to why does that happen? That shouldn’t happen. It should never be that way. You know what, and I just, I beat myself up and I torture myself and torment myself for weeks on end because of one small thing versus yeah. You know what? I’m not happy went that way. However, I can learn that I can grow from it and I can set myself up for greater success in the future, by leveraging this experience to help put into place things that would mitigate that, give me a greater chance of succeeding more often than I currently am to the highest degree that we want. That’s really the crux of it is pursuing perfection versus the need to be perfect. It’s the impact that it has on us.
One thing that we also have as a factor in this is other people. We naturally compare ourselves to others. This is something that we talked about very early on in this show is the social comparison that we make. We presume others are perfect. We presume others have it all together, that they don’t struggle with what we struggle. We see what they want us to see. Social media doesn’t have a whole lot of quote, unquote, real life in it. We just show the good, the stuff, the serving, that’s it. We don’t see the bad, the ugly, the real life side of it.
Society naturally tends to tuck that away. Say it doesn’t exist. It’s the same when we talk about perfection, we look at other people and we make presumptions that we’re not doing something right, because we’re not like them. It plays a role that doesn’t allow us to accept and embrace that. You know what, even that person we think is perfect. Guess what? They’re not. They’re not. No single person on this planet is perfect. It makes us human just like the rest of us. We all share in that. If we can embrace that, it is free. It opens us up to say, what are the things that do set me up for success? What are those factors that I can practice day in and day out that alleviate the possibility for me, slipping up, making that mistake. I can look at it in that way and have that serving outlook of these are the best practices that allow me to be at my best and set me up for success to do that.
That is what the pursuit of perfection is all about. Can I set myself up to successfully mitigate the mistakes because I embrace who I am, all parts of me and know what works best for me to be able to put them into play and put my best foot forward, to be able to hit the mark of what I want. When we feel like we have to be perfect, we need to be perfect. We don’t give ourselves that room, that margin of error to not hit the mark. I’ll end with this. In Ironman competition, there is a lot to it. It’s a very long day. You’ve got three different sports, and then you really have nutrition in there as well as the fourth sport for triathlon.
I can sleep very well. I can eat incredibly well and fuel my body properly before the race. I can swim well. I can bike well and I can run well and everything that’s in my control can go well, however, I can’t control the weather. So, maybe there’s more wind on the bike course. Maybe, it’s choppier on the swim and perhaps there’s no shade and incredibly hot on the run. All these factors that I cannot control can come in and make my time slower on that day. If all I’m focused on, is that need to be perfect and perfection means hitting this mark. Let’s say that is a time goal with triathlon and Ironmans. I may not meet those because of the weather that I cannot control. Even if I’ve done everything right, I still may not meet it because of those factors. So, if I feel like I absolutely need to be perfect, I may beat myself up in that instance because I didn’t hit that time goal. I didn’t do enough. I didn’t push hard enough. I didn’t push through the wind. I didn’t drink enough.
But when we look at the pursuit of perfection, the view flips. Did I swim to the best of my abilities in these conditions? Did I bike and run as well to the best of my ability following my plan in these conditions. Because if I did, then I can find happiness in it that I ran a perfect race to plan. What I was capable on that day may not be that time that I was looking for. But again, we can’t control everything.
It’s just one illustration of when we have the pursuit of perfection, it makes it easier to deal with things when they are not in our control. Things that are out of our control that may cause us to miss the mark. So, within athletics is a great example that if we pursue perfection and we set ourselves up for success in it, we are not only going to have a better chance of hitting that, but we’re also going to have an easier time of reaching those goals in a less stressful way. Versus when I feel like I need to be perfect, I put too much stress on me. I put too much pressure on me and when we are stressed out and we have all that pressure. You what it does?
It tightens us up. It makes us less flexible. When we talk about athletics, it puts more pressure on myself. I may check my watch, see my pacing. I’m not there. I’m not there. I’m not there. It’s not going to happen. It actually has a physical, detrimental impact on us. The same is true in the workplace. We may be more prone to making mistakes. We may be more prone to snapping at others, and we may be more prone to not thinking clearly. So, I agree with the pursuit of perfection versus the need to be perfect. So, until the next time, remember be the movement in your life.
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