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How to Be Successful by Failing at Being Perfect: 7 tips to save your soul from perfectionism

Tobias the AdequateWe recently watched a TV show about genius children – amazing kids between the ages of 7 and 13 with mind boggling IQs – who are like sponges for learning, logic, and facts. As a culture we could celebrate this brilliance, marvel at the capabilities of the human mind, and support each child in reaching their own unique potential. However, this is television so the show is a contest which pits these little wizards AGAINST each other to find the winning one. This puts enormous pressure on them to prove themselves to be the best and turns the well-meaning parents into tyrannical taskmasters.

Some years ago I was pushing myself hard with several ambitious projects at once. I put exceptional pressure on myself to excel at every aspect of each project. I had in mind people who were models of realized potential and I tried so hard to be like each of them.

My jaw was tight. My shoulders were up around my ears. Judging by the wide and terrified eyes of my family I was not much fun to live with. I thought I could continue to be compassionate to others while I was tough as nails on myself. It was as if the warrior archetype, James Bond, Tony Robbins, and Martha Stewart all morphed into a tight stressed out automaton. I had forgotten to be myself.

My epiphany came in the form of a magician.

While I was striving to be Bev the Most Blinking Excellent, I got to experience, drumroll …Tobias the Adequate.

In the fall sunshine an audience of about 50 children were wide-eyed and delighted by this avant-garde magician. With a serious expression, a grand flourish, and a booming voice Tobias said “I am going to bring a rabbit out of this hat!” Instead, a rabbit would immediately POP up somewhere else!

He declared that he would make a knot in a scarf; however, every which way he did it something unexpected happened. The children were thrilled that a grown up could be so spectacularly mistaken. Tobias was engaging, foolish, and on purpose a seeming failure.

It was magic.

Tips to save your soul from perfectionism

  1. Create space for the self to emerge. Hardheaded forcefulness can be counterproductive. To be your self requires courage and patience. Your gifts may emerge shyly like a rabbit peeking out of who knows where? There is no need to push hard. Lighten up.
  2. Laugh. The first sign that that you have lost sight of the plot is a sense of humor failure. Laugh with your silly self.
  3. Ask the right question. NOT how can I force myself to do better? Rather, what resources do I need? Such as more support, additional skills, and a more spacious time frame?
  4. Set your own intention. Don’t be concerned with proving something to others, or pleasing a chorus of critics – imaginary or real. To paraphrase a Taylor Swift hit, they will “never, never, ever, ever, be pleased.” Rather, set your intention which includes the quality of enjoyment you choose to have in the things you do.
  5. Know thy true priorities. Have “Enjoy My Life” be at the TOP of the to-do list. What is the feeling that you would like to have as you move through this day and accomplish these goals? Could it be fun? Can you choose to be inspired and connected to your Spirit and enrich your relationships while you do your thing in the world?
  6. Make mistakes and enjoy the process. If you are not making any mistakes you are not doing anything or learning much. When you make mistakes, take a bow. You can’t do anything effectively if you are not willing to do it badly, at least while you learn. Fall down, laugh, and get up again.
  7. Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others.

Thanks Tobias.

4 Responses to How to Be Successful by Failing at Being Perfect: 7 tips to save your soul from perfectionism

  1. LOOOOOVE the image of Tobias the Adequate!!! How spectacularly funny!!!! It’s often necessary to reach for perfection in furniture making but when it’s pushed too far it can drive you crazy, hemorrhage profit, and absolutely fail to make the final result one bit better. I get on the crazy track often and so I came up with a phrase to keep me sane. When Jeff and I were installing a built in bookcase, I unleashed the phrase on him at just the right moment: “Halfway decent is the new perfect”. He disintegrated laughing.

  2. Suzanne, Getting something important DONE is very satisfying- “Halfway decent is the new perfect” I love this and will adopt it as well, thank you-

  3. yes, I think in essence it’s about being at a point of choice, or getting to that point. It’s much easier to read other people’s words of wisdom (including my own!) when you’re at that place. [PS as I write this I realise this is what you’re so very good at, getting people to the point of choice… to be themselves]@: great point about partnering up with others. I’ve several times thought about partnering up with others whose work I’d love to help sell and promote so much easier to promote others than your self! maybe I should actually do more to put that idea into practice.

  4. that’s an interesting point, that fear is actually an easy option, an escape route, to avoid looking at what else is going on. So much of the creative process is really about tuning in to ourselves, learning and listening, being kind to ourselves, and yes, as you say, getting smarter at working out what’s what. (All of which can only be good for self-esteem in the long run.)@: I think really it’s about growing into the confidence of knowing who we are, and where our strengths lie. When you get to that point, a lot of the old apparent fears simply drop away.

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