Why ‘good’ is better than ‘perfect’

leadership, Life Skills, mental health, motivation, staff wellbeing

“Nobody’s perfect.” This is a fairly universally held assertion. But I think it’s wrong. Not because some people are in fact perfect but more because everyone is. The statement includes an assumption: that there is such a thing as perfect; that there is such a thing as a standard to which we should aspire.

I don’t buy it. And not only that, I think the very idea is dangerous.

We have bought into this notion as a culture in both our personal and professional lives. If we affirm the idea of perfection then we necessarily set ourselves up for repeated failure as we relentlessly try to achieve the unachievable. We need to bin the idea.

Carol Dweck’s research on Growth Mindset illustrates this. In Dweck’s studies when students embrace the idea of ‘clever’ or ‘smart’ or ‘genius’ as real things (entity theory) that you either have or don’t have, they very quickly become demoralised and give up when they hit challenges or when their experiences provide evidence that they do not have ‘what it takes’. Conversely, students who adopt a mindset of continuous improvement (incremental theory) and abandon the notion of a pre-ordained standard, tend to relish challenge and develop intrinsic motivation and engagement with the joy of the task itself.

Your task is to be the best (whatever it is you do) you can be within the context you are in.

You’re only requirement is to be you. You are the best ‘you’ there has ever been. There has never been another ‘you’ in the history of the universe so far and, after you die, there will never be another ‘you’ again. We don’t look at the sun and ask but is it a perfect sun or an imperfect one. It’s the sun. It is. It is perfectly what it is. We don’t inspect a blade of grass or a leaf and ask is it a perfect leaf or not? It is what it is. Perfectly. The notion that you are not a perfect human being is a nonsense. There is no such thing. You are a perfect ‘you’. And you are responsible for what kind of ‘you’ you want to become. And your only responsibility is to do your best to become that.

I discovered this idea from Don Miguel Ruiz’s fantastic little book ‘The Four Agreements’. The fourth one is Always do your best. Your best. And no-one else can say what your best is. 

“All your life you tried to be good enough for somebody else… you sacrificed your personal freedom to live according to someone else’s point of view. You tried to be good enough for your mother, your father, your teachers, your beloved, your children, your religion, your society…You can relearn how to love yourself by accepting yourself unconditionally…” (Don Miguel Ruiz)

Your best is not a static thing. It changes every day. Your best first thing in the morning is different to your best last thing at night. Your best at the beginning of term is different to your best at the end of term. Your best when your kids are ill, your husband has left you and your car has broken down is different to your best when everything’s going beautifully. Your best is not the same as someone else’s best. You are not supposed to be one of them, you’re supposed to be you. You’re supposed to be a YOU kind of manager or teacher or solicitor or care worker…. etc

Seriously: don’t give a stuff about being perfect if you want to be genuinely good at what you do. And if you’re going to stay well. You’re giving your attention to the wrong thing. 

Now for some people reading this you may realise that YOU, authentic you is not and never was whatever it is you do. That’s ok. That’s a brilliant discovery. Find out what you are and do it. You went into the wrong profession – no worries, millions do. Be glad that you realised it now. But don’t spend one further year trying to be something you are not. Your life is too precious for that. You have too much to offer the world. 

Give yourself permission to be yourself. Abandon perfect. Commit to do your best. But remember to balance being your best as a dad and as a professional, and as a friend and as a wife and as a caregiver…etc.  So don’t rail against yourself for what you could have done differently… Tomorrow’s another day when you get to go at it again and be even better than today. Today you gave your best and you learned. So go to sleep with a clear conscience.

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