The idea of focusing on “progress not perfection” is not a new one. I can’t claim authorship or take credit for the profound thought. It’s a suggestion touted by support groups, spiritual leaders, motivational speakers, and fitness instructors around the world.

Progress Not Perfection

It’s a few simple words that convey a great big message.

The slogan popped into my mind as I read Sara Saddington’s post on Chasing Audacious Goals. I found myself smiling as I read about her first draft celebration. I’ll admit, I would not have thought to celebrate that progress, but it’s an inspired idea! It’s an important milestone that deserves recognition. And as Sara explained, celebrating that victory created a memory she can hang on to as she works toward her ultimate goal.

It’s the embodiment of celebrating progress, not perfection.

I used to identify as a Perfectionist. I wore the label with pride. I believed it made me sound responsible, hard-working, and accomplished. My perfectionist tendencies meant I was always striving to do and be better, which seems admirable at face value. In practice though, it means I’m rarely satisfied or content with my achievements. Because, spoiler alert, I’m never perfect, and neither is anything I do. I’m discovering that expecting or striving for perfection, is unrealistic, unfair, and often unkind.

My unrealistic quest for perfection has hindered me in many ways over the years.

Perfectionism Kept My Goals Small

When I accept nothing less than perfection, I’m forced to keep to my goals small. There are no audacious goals for me. I can’t set them! What if I fail? My need to accomplish things perfectly keeps me from dreaming big and reaching for the stars.

I have talked myself out of applying for jobs, bidding for contracts, and tackling projects outside my comfort zone. If I don’t feel relatively confident that I’ll “nail it,” I find a reason not to try in the first place. Fear is a powerful motivator and, at times, paralyzing. It’s time to start remembering that failure can be a gift.

Perfectionism Blinded Me to Incremental Improvement

When I accept nothing less than perfection, I’m unable to celebrate the milestones along the road toward my end goal. Because I keep my eye on “the prize,” I forget to celebrate the incremental improvements that I’m making. And those deeds are enabling the future completion of the project. Perfectionism causes me to miss the journey and the lessons along the way. It keeps me focussed solely on the end game.

You see, there’s a mean girl’s voice in my head that tries to silence any celebration. She tells me that I haven’t met my ultimate goal, and I need to buckle down, achieve, and stop wasting time congratulating myself. And you know what? She’s wrong. Celebrating successful steps toward a goal will keeps us motivated to reach that goal.

Perfectionism Kept Me from Honoring My Limitations

It sounds empowering to say, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” But really, that’s not true. There are some things I’ll never be able to do! There are some talents I don’t have. There are some jobs that I’m not suited for. There are some goals I’ll never achieve. And that is okay.

There are plenty of things I can do, talents I do have, and jobs I’m suited for ideally. Honoring my limitations and accepting that is freeing. Spending time beating myself for what I can’t do, or trying to force myself to succeed at a project that isn’t in my wheelhouse doesn’t make sense. Recognizing those weaknesses and acknowledging them as acceptable can be empowering. Plus it frees my mind to focus on the stuff I’m good at.

Perfectionism Altered My Expectations of Others

When I’m expecting nothing but the best from myself, I find I’m much more demanding of everyone around me. I give less grace to others when I’m less gracious to myself. Conversely, when I ease up on myself, I find I’m more understanding when others make mistakes. As I’ve learned to ditch my perfectionist ways, I’ve become much more pleasant to be around.

Redefining Success

When I accept nothing less than perfection, I do myself (and others) a disservice. So I’m working to redefine professional success and remembering that progress, not perfection is what I’m striving for each day. By doing that I hope to continue to recognize just how big those “small” victories along the way truly are.

Featured Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash
Photo by Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash
When success is defined as perfectionism, it's a recipe for failure. When we focus on progress not perfection, we set ourselves up to achieve better things.