The holidays are a wonderful time for movie marathons in our family. We mix in the old and the new, and ‘Elf’ is always on the playbill. This Christmas, we watched Soul, the latest movie from Pixar. Soul is about Joe, a black music schoolteacher who suffers a tragic accident the same day he gets the biggest break of his life, a chance to perform with a jazz band. As a soul traveling to the Great Beyond, he is assigned to mentor 22, an unborn soul, to prepare her for life on earth. Jamie Foxx plays Joe Gardner and Tina Fey is the voice behind Number 22.
Soul has some great lessons about purpose, finding your spark and living life to the fullest every day. We enjoyed it thoroughly. Afterwards, my daughter Lauren was reading the reviews. Most were balanced but there was one that stood out for its overwhelmingly negative critique. Lauren and I went back and forth discussing this review, which we found surprising.
Ultimately, she said something that gave me pause, “If we look long and hard enough at something, we will always find something wrong with it. We shouldn’t be naïve but sometimes we can leave things as they are.”
No doubt this statement can be applied to many scenarios. But at that moment it spoke directly at the perfectionist in me, which my friends and family know all too well.
An example – I once told a close friend about a particular area of my life that was going well. I wanted her to help me deconstruct it and figure out why it was going well and how I could improve it. She wasn’t playing my game that day.
Her precise words were, “Can you just accept that something that is good and enjoy it without the need to strive to make it better. Just appreciate it and enjoy it today. Don’t layer on any pressure.” Maybe she feared that if I scrutinised it too closely, I would think it wasn’t going that well after all.
Perhaps the genesis of this need emerged in high school. We had both attended a competitive, all-girls Catholic high school where the motto was Ad Astra per Aspera – through difficulties to excellence. And we certainly drove for excellence, almost obsessively. This has its benefits in the workplace – hello bigger bonus! But my high school bestie agreed that turning it into a quest for perfection was completely to our detriment, especially in our personal lives.
There are many articles about the dangers of perfectionism in the corporate environment. It stalls performance, hinders productivity and speed, and negatively impacts relationships. On a personal level it causes endless turmoil and feeds a voracious and always hungry inner critic. You might cover it up by saying you are ‘striving for excellence’, ‘desiring the best for everyone’ or just ‘casting a critical eye’. All of which are good and necessary but it’s easy to veer off into less fruitful behaviours.
I now embrace the principle: don’t let perfect become the enemy of the good. And I had to keep this in mind in creating this website and blog. I hesitated to launch it because it wasn’t professionally built. I worked at it, but many things still weren’t ‘perfect’. Guess what? They are still not perfect, but I’ve launched it anyway!
Tell me, are you always on a quest for perfection? How is that working for you? And how has it impacted your relationships?
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