By senior consultant Jim Morris
Oh the pressure to perform and to succeed, I often find it overwhelming, maybe you do, too(?) That’s why this year I have decided to “go for bronze”. For me this means doing the best I possibly can and if it is good, it is good enough. From now on I will not get screwed up seeking perfection, which inevitably leads me to irrational thoughts of failure and stress. Carpe diem? No thanks, I’ll seize the day tomorrow…(carpe cras) or maybe the day after, and that will also be OK. In fact I now find it helps to have a “to don’t list”, where I write a list of all the things I’m not going to do and then I just don’t do them. Same sense of achievement but none of the effort!
Photo by Hello I'm Nik on Unsplash
For those of you who might still be wondering why on earth I would go for bronze, I can tell you it is because I am a recovering perfectionist. The curse of my perfectionism meant that I could never enjoy anything. When things went well and people would say “good job, well done”, I shrugged off their praise, mumbling things like, “oh I’m just doing my job”. When things went badly, my whole world would cave in. It had to stop. That doesn’t mean I became lazy, work shy, ready to sacrifice quality or deliver poor work. No. It just meant telling myself, you do the best that you can, and good is good enough.
Being an imperfectionist
To lose the perfectionism and to go for bronze is to ignore the barrage of what we are told success looks like. This can be challenging as I am constantly confronted with it. I suppose it’s my own fault for surfing the beautiful, glamorous, successful worlds portrayed in the social media platforms that I visit. Yet maybe this is exactly where I can also find a different truth. In realizing that I do not need to strive to reach those perfectly shaped lives staring back at me through my LCD screen, I just might discover a better more real world. Maybe my goal this year is to become an imperfectionist. Perhaps it is in the imperfections that I can find new things.
Leonard Cohen, the legendary Canadian poet and singer put this nicely in his song “Anthem”.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Through the cracks of imperfection light shines in on things we might normally miss in our struggle for perfection. It might even bring hope in the darkness of our current pandemic.
At this point, I have to say that I feel I have age on my side. As someone in their 50’s I find I worry less about what people think. I am told that this is not true for everyone in their later years. Nevertheless I am experiencing a very different time than my teenage years. I can only imagine the pressure that many young people feel to keep up in the “perfect” world they see and the social pressures it brings with it. Not least looking fabulous and personal achievement.
Be number one or grow together?
This idea of personal achievement reminds me of a moment whilst delivering a workshop in the Philippines for an American sportswear company. A few weeks earlier I had delivered the same workshop at their offices in the USA where their American manager arrived to kick off my session. The manager solemnly looked at the group and said “listen well to what Jim tells you, be the best that you can be, be number one”. This was followed by a few woops and fists punching the air. “Be number one” I thought, wow, my workshop had suddenly become a competitive struggle for first place on the success and achievement scale.
However here I was a few weeks later in Manila. Same company, same workshop. This time a Philippine manager walked in. I heard a voice in my head say; “OK here we go again, be number one, woop, woop, yeah, fist bumps all round”. But no, to my great surprise the manager looked at the group and said; “Welcome everyone. As you follow this workshop I want you to remember the story of the tree in the forest”. My head spun, I had not been expecting this. What was this story of the tree in the forest?
The manager continued saying; “The tree that grows too quickly will soar high above the canopy of the forest and only be caught by the wind and eventually blown down. So listen well, grow together and grow strong”.
What a different message than that of the American manager’s call to go for pole position and be number one.
What I want to say is that none of us should feel that we must always go for gold. Do the best you can. There is value and wisdom in going for and accepting bronze. There are benefits not only in your mental and physical health by letting go of perfection, but also in expanding what you see when being an imperfectionist. Seeing what else can be lit up through the cracks in your less than perfect world. Good is good enough.
Deal with your personal saboteurs
Schouten Global runs various courses on dealing with your emotions and how to challenge your irrational thoughts and personal saboteurs. If you are interested in learning more about these subjects and training possibilities please contact us at +31 (0) 418 68 85 58 (NL) or email to firstname.lastname@example.org
And…if you’re not interested, it’s OK, it really is. Just put it on your “to don’t list”!
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