(This article was written with holy hell this is stronger than usual coffee pulsing through my veins. Don’t say you weren’t warned.)
Striving for perfection is ruining our lives.
It leaves us frustrated if we don’t attain it and immobilized if we’re afraid of not achieving it with our plan of execution, and therefore don’t take any action.
“If we can’t be perfect, what’s the point of even trying?” we often wonder or, worse yet, are taught to believe is worth asking in the first place.
It’s no secret, because I’ve said it on this website multiple times, that I’m a perfectionist. Always have been. Whether it was achieving straight A’s throughout college, being the only one in class to memorize over 100 terms and definitions, or anything else I set my mind to, I’ve always wanted to achieve perfection, and nothing less.
I thought this relentless pursuit of doing everything perfectly was a badge of honor. I thought it would serve me well and ensure I reached my goals.
But I’m no longer a perfectionist. I’m a recovering perfectionist.
Why? Because I’ve realized that being a perfectionist doesn’t always serve me well. In fact, it’s proven to be harmful.
Let me tell you a story about a salad. Yes, you read that correctly. I have a story, about a salad.
The Perfect Salad
Want to hear something utterly ridiculous? I once experienced stress over a salad. That’s right, a damn salad was causing me stress.
I just wanted some crisp, crunchy iceberg and romaine lettuce with a bit of ranch dressing. (Yes, I like the same salad dressing parents use to cajole their children into eating vegetables; I think other people do too, they simply try to convince themselves they don’t because, you know, it’s not “perfect,” or whatever.)
The salad wasn’t “perfect” because everyone knows you should eat dark, leafy greens like spinach, arugula, kale, chard, and other super-duper greens. The darker the greens the higher the nutrition, right? Get out of here with your nutritionally inferior iceberg!
And childish ranch dressing that contains sugar (or worse – high fructose corn syrup!) and additives? Not good enough! Eat that salad dry and naked (the salad, not you; you don’t have to be naked) or with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon or don’t eat it at all.
My helpless little salad wasn’t perfect, and it upset me. (It was this obsession with eating “perfectly” that contributed the the disordered and binge eating behaviors I battled in the past.)
Thankfully I realized that stressing over a salad was galactically stupid.
The solution now is ever so obvious.
Was it really that big of a deal to eat an iceberg and romaine lettuce salad and top it with a little processed dressing? Hell no. Some fitness professionals and die-hard enthusiasts would point, laugh, and tell me my little salad was inferior to their behemoth of an all organic vegetable garden that was topped with precisely 1.8539 teaspoons of cold pressed imported extra virgin olive oil.
Others have experienced a similar reality when they hear eating an apple isn’t optimal and that they should instead eat dark berries, or that brown rice is better than white, or that fatty fish is superior to white fish. The result: their “good” effort fell short, and they should strive for perfect.
Nope. Screw perfection.
Related article: The Diet That Has No Name (and It May be the Best Thing Ever)
Rest assured it’s not just food I’ve tried to perfect. You can chase perfection in any area of life. Oftentimes, as I discovered, you can become paralyzed and end up doing nothing because you’re afraid of doing something less than perfect.
The Perfect Financial Plan
Don’t worry. We won’t discuss salads anymore. Let’s talk about money instead!
We all want to be financially healthy and do smart grown-up things with our money. It’s fun to say words like 401(k), Roth IRA, interest and dividends, capital gains, and act like we give a damn how the S&P 500 and international markets performed today.
Frankly, I’m proud of how we manage money in our home. We own our house. We have zero debt. We have an emergency fund. We have retirement accounts.
But months ago we wanted to ensure we were executing the perfect financial plan. So we started to read books and well respected websites. We learned a great deal and began to conjure up the ideal plan of action for how to best save and invest going forward.
And then for a couple of months we didn’t do a damn thing. Our lust for a perfect plan left us paralyzed.
Then like a warm, calming blanket the two word phrase washed over us: screw perfection.
We realized, once again, trying to do the “perfect thing” was stupid. We’d done our homework and felt very confident in our knowledge and agreed to take action. Was it absolutely perfect? No, probably not. But we did something productive instead of being paralyzed with inaction.
That “something productive” came in the form of opening an account with Betterment. Why Betterment? Because it made sense for us. For one, they have the best rates when it comes to robo-advisors, and I crave simplicity and ease-of-use features which Betterment has beautifully accomplished. You choose your goals (they have a fast, easy tool for this) and deposit the money. We had it set up and running in a matter of minutes.
(Note! It’s important to be careful here. Don’t do anything crazy like dump every penny you have in a stock based on a “super top secret tip” or start day trading. Stick to the boring basics. Don’t spend more than you make. Get out of debt. Plan for tomorrow (i.e., save for retirement). Build up an emergency savings. Eliminate unnecessary expenses.)
If you too crave simplicity consider using Betterment for retirement accounts, saving for large purchases, and general investing. I’m a proud user and affiliate for Betterment. Click here to set up your account in a matter of minutes and start doing smart grown-up things with your money. (Use that link and you can get up to six months free.)
Enough talk about money. Like my pathetic rant about the perfect salad, let’s discuss the problem with striving to find the perfect workout.
The Perfect Workout
I know the search for the perfect workout all too well. When I competed in powerlifting I searched for the perfect program that would make me brutally strong. I wanted to shatter world records, damnit!
And before that I was on the hunt for the ultimate fat loss workout.
Not only did this lead to a lot of program-hopping and never doing one thing for very long, but it led to some mighty frustration when I was following a program.
The gym is closed? Nooooo!!!! I can’t do Workout B of my program!
The gym I visited while out of town didn’t have the proper bar and weight plates for deadlifts. Nooooooo! I can’t pull safely with hex plates!
The workout required me to superset suspension trainer push-ups with cable pull-downs, but the gym was particularly crowded so there was no way I could take up that much equipment at once. What should I do?!?! I can’t superset! Will everything get messed up if I do each exercise by itself? Will this ruin my results?
If my workout was derailed due to a closed gym or lack of equipment I would get upset. Yes. Yes I know this is stupid; you don’t have to tell me. But at the time, if I couldn’t execute my workout perfectly I didn’t think there was any need to do it at all.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned despite our intentions. But thankfully strength training and fitness isn’t all that complicated. So you can’t do your workout as written because the gym is busy or doesn’t have the equipment you need? Oh well. Do something. It’s better than doing nothing.
Many can relate to this example because they spend hours combing the internet for the perfect workout program. Stop looking for “perfect” and just start executing the proven basic principles over and over again.
How about one final example where searching for perfection leads to paralysis?
The Perfect Charity
At the end of last year I decided to start releasing a Workout of the Month. For the first workout you could pay what you wanted for the program and 10% of each purchase would be donated to a charity that helped animals. After all, who doesn’t love animals?
This was going to be great! You would get a terrific workout program and we were going to help animals in need. “Let’s do this!” I thought eagerly.
Then I started asking questions …
Which charity is best? Which one applies the majority of the donations it receives directly to the cause it claims to support? Should I donate to a charity that helps end pet homelessness of cats and dogs, or should I contribute to one that helps end animal cruelty? Is it a big deal to obsess over the difference between a charity that received an A+ rating and one that received an A?
Because of these questions I delayed the release of the Workout of the Month because I hadn’t yet found the perfect charity.
Then I stated calmly those two freeing words: screw perfection.
After examining a few charities on CharityWatch.org I understood that we can help a great deal more by donating to a great charity instead of wasting time searching for the perfect charity. So I chose PetSmart Charities and released the program right away. (Interested in the next Workout of the Month? Sign up for the newsletter below to be the first to know when it’s available.)
Yes, that was a expeditious, mildly chaotic, coffee-fueled glimpse into my mind. If you’re a perfectionist you can likely relate to some extent. If you can’t, well, then, there’s a strong chance you think I’m a bit nutty, that my brain can be a scary place, and that I should strongly consider scaling back on jet-fuel riddled coffee.
How about you? Do you ever find yourself paralyzed and not taking action because you’re too preoccupied with searching for the perfect plan? Do you get frustrated because you often wonder if what you are doing is perfect?
You know the solution. When you find yourself discouraged because you didn’t initiate the “perfect” plan or you’re not taking action at all because you don’t feel like you have the perfect plan, just say calmly, “Screw perfection,” and move on. Do something.
Sometimes it’s entirely acceptable, and perhaps even beneficial, to be satisfied with good and stop chasing perfect.
Eat your imperfect salad. Employ your imperfect financial plan. Do that imperfect workout.
Imperfect action will always surpass no action at all. Doing the good thing over and over and over will always lead to substantially better results than searching relentlessly for the perfect course of action, and not doing anything. You can tweak things here and there as you gain knowledge and experience, but do something and don’t expect, or labor endlessly for, perfection from the start or, perhaps, ever.
The next time you feel overwhelmed calmly utter those two freeing words: screw perfection.
If you enjoyed this article you may also like …
- Self-Compassion: The Greatest Tool for Becoming the Best Version of Yourself
- The Ultimate Guide on How Not to Care What Others Think, and Live a More Awesome Life
- How to Stop Letting Fear Hold You Back (Even if You Don’t Realize It Is)
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