As a reformed perfectionist, I understand the appeal of perfection. Whether it’s the aesthetic appeal of a perfectly cut diamond or the yummy perfection of a beautifully decorated wedding cake, we all appreciate perfection on the occasions it shows up in our lives. We marvel because perfection is so rare and often beautiful.
While perfection is something we all appreciate, we get into trouble when we constantly strive for it. Striving for perfection is a surefire way to set yourself, or others, up for failure and disappointment. And, in most cases, perfection is not necessary, or even good.
Imagine coming into every meeting with the perfect solution. How boring would that be? How would that make your coworkers feel? Imagine if you could not leave your house until every hair was in place and your makeup flawless. How many hours of your life would be consumed with grooming? Who would be waiting, impatient and annoyed? Imagine if every report you presented would be thrown into a fire pit (without a digital copy to rework — horrors!) if it had just one typo or mistake. How would you feel as the author of that report? Yet so many of us strive to achieve perfection in everything we do, and feel disappointment when we can’t.
When I work with senior executive women and they say, “I am a bit of a perfectionist” they are often taken aback when I respond, “perfectionism is a block to success.” But it is true. Perfectionism is the enemy of progress, innovation, and productivity. And perfectionism—practiced as a solo sport—disengages others. Perfect people are just plain annoying.
When I was married I would tell my husband that he was “perfect in his imperfectness” and I believed that. In my thirties, I finally learned to believe that about myself and that new belief changed everything. I began to take delight in the beautiful imperfections that showed up in my world every day: my imperfect smile, the misshapen heirloom tomato, the driftwood on the beach, natural pearls, and the overdone cookies I gobbled down before the guests arrived. I found beauty or value in every one of these things. I understood that God made the perfect and the imperfect as a way to give us contrast and I learned that, like the rose blossom, perfection may be very temporary.
This new belief in the perfection of imperfection freed me from striving for the unattainable. My newfound appreciation for imperfection allowed me to be more creative, more collaborative, less rigid, and less stressed. Most importantly it allowed me to be more compassionate with myself and with others. I understood that we if we valued only that which was perfect we would risk devaluing prototypes, research, opinions, art, cuisine, wine, film, dancing, and our childhood teddy bears.
The reality is that if we expect perfection of ourselves, or others, we will live a life of disappointment. If we strive for perfection we will be crippled by the pressure to perform. If we constantly achieve perfection we will appear less human, and less approachable.
When I was vacationing in Turkey and admiring the beautiful handmade rugs, I was told that the weavers would intentionally weave in a “mistake”— an odd-colored piece of yarn or a break in the pattern — because “only Allah is perfect.” I didn’t spot the “mistake” until the rug merchant pointed it out to me. Step back from the rug, soften your gaze, and the intentional flaw disappears. So I challenge you to make imperfection an art form. Be perfect in your imperfectness. Be that beautiful rug.