Should You Focus on Doing Your Best, or Strive to Be Perfect?

A 3-Step Process for Perfectionist Leaders to Let Go of Perfectionism

We have an innate drive to create – same as we have a drive to survive. It’s a core human drive, like affection, freedom, understanding. This is especially true of entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Another innate trait of humans is that we want to do things well. Better than well. We want to make things perfect. How many job candidates use the phrase “Strive for perfection”, because they think it’s a great characteristic?

But creatives start their process in an unusual way. They expect their first attempt to be bad. Then they look to improve. And this is a trait that you’ll find in many successful entrepreneurs, too. They don’t strive for perfection on the way to becoming the best at what they do.

What can we learn from the creative process in our pursuit of perfection? Should you start letting go of perfectionism?

The consequences of striving for perfection

Many scientific studies have found that humans have an instinctual need to strive for perfection without much thought or consideration. This can lead people to behave in a self-destructive way. It can even cause harm to themselves or others due to their negligence towards the consequences of their actions.

The implications go beyond the work that you do and affect your home life. Some examples of how this mindset leads people astray are: 

  • Overworking

  • Preventing sleep

  • Neglecting personal relationships

Yet most people believe that it is important to achieve perfection in every area of their life. Is this a realistic ambition?

It is important to realize that perfection can only be achieved in the mind of the individual and not reality itself. By striving for perfection, you:

  • Restrict your potential for growth by chasing unrealistic goals

  • Don’t give yourself enough time to explore new opportunities

  • Put too much pressure on yourself, and become overwhelmed with tasks

The only way to avoid these negative consequences is by letting go of perfectionism.

Why letting go of perfectionism is crucial to doing better continuously

Okay, so we all have a strong desire to be perfect. But as we’ve seen, this can have destructive and negative consequences. Yet most people still have a fear of failure – and, for them, failure is doing something that is less than perfect. So that project never gets finished. Because it is never perfect. And because, as a perfectionist, you never let go, you never feel fulfilled.

It’s time to accept that there is a difference between the pursuit of perfection and the reality of doing your best work, and always improving. Sure, it’s hard to let go of the idea that what you do must be perfect. But unless you do, you will never feel fulfilled and succeed by finding peace in your imperfection.

If perfection were an obtainable feat, then perhaps we should strive to be perfect. But it isn’t. What is obtainable is to be better. This should be what you strive for.

How to let go of perfectionism

The creative process often starts with a rough draft. A skimmed concept. A piece of work that the creator knows isn’t their best. Often, this poor piece of work is done deliberately. To many, this would seem a waste of effort and the complete opposite to what you should be doing – their very best work, the first time.

So, how do creatives deliver amazing work when they start so poorly? The answer is they know how to let go of perfectionism in a continual loop of three steps:

  1. Reflect

It is easier said than done, but you should always reflect on what you have done to ensure that you are doing your best work. Plain and simple, it’s the first step in doing your best work. It helps you identify what works and what doesn’t so that you can continue to improve.

When you look back on your work, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, ‘What did I do well?’ and ‘What did I not do well?’ After reflecting on the good and bad, and learning from it, you can then start doing the work that you need to do.

  1. Refine

The second step in doing your best work is to refine what you have done so far. This means that you must get rid of the unnecessary parts and polish what is left. It also means that you need to make sure that your work is consistent and cohesive. This process can sometimes be tedious, but if you put in the time, it will make a difference in the end.

  1. Repeat

The third step to doing your best work is to repeat steps one and two: reflect and refine. Continue to do this until no further improvement is possible. You’ve done your best work. This process needs practice, patience, and discipline, as you are trying to improve at the same time as you’re learning.

You’re already good at doing better, and not being perfect!

Most people have used this process of improvement without realizing it. For example, let’s say that you want to create an office in a small room in your home.

Your first step is usually to do a rough drawing of what it will look like. A simple plan. Perhaps this is in your head, or on paper. You’ll think about this before moving on.

Next, you will measure the room, and refine your sketch. Your rough draft becomes a blueprint. You make sure that the measurements of tables, desks, filing cabinets are correct.

Then you think about the space again, and your plans for it. You consider if the desk will be better under the window or next to the wall. So, you redraw your plan, repeating the second step.

You continue to do this until the plan for your home office is as good as it can be. Now you’re ready to go. It’s not perfect. You’ve had to make compromises. But it is damned good! It’s the best it can be. And maybe that is perfection?

Don’t be a perfectionist leader

Do you see yourself as a perfectionist leader? Do you set goals that are too difficult to achieve, or have unrealistic expectations of yourself and your team?

It’s time to let go of perfectionism and get over the fear. You are wasting time on skillsets that you don’t have and trying to do something that’s impossible. You’re harming your team by setting goals that no human will be able to achieve. This negatively affects morale, effort reduces, and you miss out on potential because you’re too busy trying to make everything perfect. 

It’s time for a change. Letting go of perfection is essential for your success and happiness, but it can also be very difficult. It’s also essential. Let go of your fear, be realistic with your expectations, but be confident in who you are and what you can accomplish. Start with your worst. Then reflect, refine, and repeat.

Is your business struggling to meet its potential? Book a free call with Level 5 Mentors today, and learn how we help our clients to 10x their growth.

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