How to be your imperfect best

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Do your best

I love this quote. I put it on my Facebook page a few weeks ago and it really resonated with people. It struck a chord with me, not least because it drew me back to my childhood and how my parents would always say to me “just do your best” (rather than try to be perfect). A good lesson which, in adult life, has helped me go a bit easier on myself when I mess up! Well, usually anyway – I’m not perfect at this 🙂

Whether at home, at work, as leaders or supporters, so many of us seek and push for perfection. I think the benefits of pursuing this are over-rated and imperfect in themselves!

I’m not saying we should aim for second best. I don’t advocate that we should always sit back, go with the flow, wait for things to happen rather than make them happen, step back from our responsibilities to ourselves and others or make half-hearted efforts. Sometimes we need to relax our thinking and doing, not always.

We need to take a balanced approach.

It’s far better, if you ask me, to strive for excellence (to do our best) rather than perfection. We can all do this.

And as part of this, it’s good to be very aware of what our best means. We can easily get tangled up in our thinking around someone else’s expectations of us. Their perfectionism can superimpose itself on our own thoughts and influence us to be someone we’re not. This can bring about pressure and stress and ultimately disable us from doing or being our best in the first place!

So what can we do to help ourselves get over the pull of perfectionism? Here are a few ideas I’ve come across:

Stop trying to compete with others.
You are your own person, on your own path. Ignore the competition and go with your intuition and highlight your individual strengths, that is how you will stand out and succeed. Surround yourself with supportive people and in turn become more supportive of them, even if they are in your same industry, social group, are co-workers, etc.

Re-evaluate your daily expectations.
Are your daily “to-do” lists realistic? Are you running yourself into the ground in order to accomplish too much in one day? Review your daily expectations of yourself and perhaps lower them to a more attainable and less draining series of activities. Goals can still be accomplished, maybe not as instantaneously as your “perfectionist-self” would like, but your stress levels will definitely decrease, sustaining good health. If you miss a self-imposed deadline for a project, forgive yourself and complete it when you are able.

Lose your all or nothing thinking.
Also known as black and white thinking patterns; there are always many shades in-between. Just because you didn’t execute something flawlessly initially doesn’t mean you didn’t do a good job. Not achieving exactly what you set out to do doesn’t necessarily mean absolute failure. Most things in life fall into a grey area. Learn to embrace that and work towards gradual improvement until your desired outcome is reached.

Write down a list of past mistakes and their outcomes.
It’s good to learn to accept our past mistakes and make peace with them. A good way to accomplish this is to write down a list of missteps you may have taken in your life and write down what you learned from them and perhaps what good eventually developed. This will help clarify that not being perfect is not necessarily a bad proposition.

It’s OK to be vulnerable.
Everyone has setbacks and bad days from time to time and it’s perfectly natural to be affected. None of us are perfectly resilient. Open up to a trusted friend/family member or write out all your feelings in some kind of journal. It’s completely human to be frustrated or discouraged on occasion and acceptable to acknowledge those feelings.

We might just find, that by acting on these ideas, our perfectionist tendencies begin to wane. Replacing them with the knowledge that we’re “just doing our best” should make for a smoother road ahead and a happier journey along it.

8 Responses to How to be your imperfect best

  1. Johanna says:

    Hi Frank,
    I really liked the ideas you shared particuarly the list of past mistakes and outcomes.

    I find if I do this task regularly it helps me to admit my imperfections and I can work out how to change. I make a list with the heading ‘what can I do differently?’ and I write down ways in which I can change my actions and behaviour so that I do better the next time a problem arises.

  2. Nina says:

    So true, but not always easy to do! I find I’m my own worst critic, and I’m sure I demand more of myself that’s anyone else ever would. A really useful reminder, thanks Frank!

    • frank says:

      I agree Nina, easier said than done. I’m glad it’s served as a reminder anyway – forewarned & forearmed etc 🙂

  3. Gina Musa says:

    I also agree that it is better to go for excellence rather than perfection Frank. I remember discussing this with my own coach a couple of years ago and we talked about how perfectionism can be a form of resistance if it means we don’t take the risk of ‘shipping out’ what we are working on. I try to remember this when I’m hovering for too long over the ‘send’ button 🙂 – it sometimes helps!

  4. I love this, Frank (as I do all your writing!). You’ve hit a very big nail on the head. It’s a tricky one, as there’s always more stretch we can make, always more potential to fulfil, and we’d be limiting ourselves if we didn’t always aim for that stretch. What strikes me about what you’ve written is the clear contrast between perfectionism (which is impossible to reach, just because we’re human – and which is an illusion, anyway) and excellence (which is the very best that’s attainable at this time, in this environment and with the resources we have).

    It also strikes me that excellence can be rich in learning, whereas perfectionism can be sterile in learning.

    Perfectionism also has something punitive about it, whereas excellence is inspiring.

    And having said all that, Nina’s comment really resonates for me!

    • frank says:

      Thanks for your great comments as ever Lindsay. I particularly loved what you had to say about learning via excellence or “perfection” ! Fantastic insights – Thank You

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