Why You Should Aim For Progress Over Perfection
In my youth, I was focused on perfection. I wanted to be a perfect athlete and run the fastest 50-yard dash. I wanted to be perfect in school, so I graduated as Valedictorian of my high school class. I wanted to look thin, perfect and pretty like women in magazines. In my 20s, I wanted to be the perfect wife, have a perfect house and perfect kids. Oh, and be the perfect entrepreneur so I could check “perfect job” off the list too.
But somewhere in my 30s, I realized perfect isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. I realized there is so much more to life, and imperfection can be endearing. Imperfection is human, relatable and fosters connection.
I no longer wanted to be the fastest runner, I just wanted to complete a few races and scratch a marathon/triathlon off my bucket list. I didn’t want to be thin anymore, I just wanted to be strong in mind and body. No longer did I have to tidy my house before bed. It was okay to leave a few dishes in the sink and junk on the kitchen counters (although it took some practice!). Soon, I realized my husband of 23 years is totally happy with who I am and all of my quirks. (Right, honey?) That’s when I had the most perfect epiphany—I don’t need to be perfect anymore.
I had a total change of heart. No longer do I bicker with my husband about stupid stuff or pick battles with my kids. I learned not to nitpick the little things, like shoes all over the mudroom. Perfection is unachievable and it’s probably the worst way to set yourself up for failure. I learned that the hard way over the years, which is now why I tell people to strive for progress, not perfection.
I like to call myself “a recovering perfectionist.” Now in my 50s, I am less worried about what others think about me as long as I’m proud of my own behavior. It’s like parenting teenagers who think your every move is embarrassing, but you just don’t care. You are okay with it because you don’t have to look perfect. I don’t have to be perfect…
I believe being strong is sexy, and beauty truly comes from within. I no longer have to have the perfect outfit every day. (When my daughter was little she used to ask, “Mom, are you gonna wear exercise clothes again today?) I’m okay sharing my aging woes. I am okay admitting in my fitness classes that my back is bad and my shoulder is sore. I’ll give my classes great workouts no matter what, but I’m okay not being the perfect instructor every day. I’m okay with a few wrinkles. (Adult acne I could live without!) I’m okay admitting I am who I am.
As a parent, I wanted my kids to escape the whole perfectionism thing. I think they are doing just fine. I’ve always told my kids, “If you put forth your best effort, I’m okay with the grades you get. But if you don’t try, then I’m disappointed that you are wasting your God-given talents.” I want my kids to be hard workers and caring citizens. I want my kids to acknowledge their weaknesses and admit when they are wrong, striving to be better and improve where they can. Progress, not perfection.
Often fear and ego hold people back. Fear of showing their imperfection keeps people from achieving. I’d rather go for it. Give it a try. And repeat to myself: I don’t have to be the best; I just have to do my best. I no longer need to always be right; I just need to be happy.
Now don’t get me wrong, my lack of perfection doesn’t lessen my drive or my intensity. I am a self-professed workaholic. I work hard at my job, my family and my relationships; I just don’t expect perfection anymore. And since I’m not perfect, I do sometimes lose it, but I think that’s okay. My focus is on meaningful time spent with my family—not on chasing perfection.