Long ago and far away, in the years of my young adulthood, I was an accountant and small business consultant. Numbers, equations, doing this then that, organizational tools and goal setting were my strengths. I worked with my clients to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). They were easy to explain and easy for me to accomplish. I got an A+ in goal setting.
And I even earned a B grade in attaining my objectives. (Well, maybe a B- or C+ in attaining my yearly goal to go to the gym!). But then something shifted.
I began to realize that the objectives I set for myself and that I attained were not making me happy. As I reached the goal, I didn’t feel satisfied or content with my accomplishment. I always felt there was one more mountain to climb. If I finished the work project on time and on budget, my goal for the next month became doing the same task in less time or with fewer headaches. Always bigger, better, faster, more, more, more. Sooner or later, I was sure the oh-so-sought-after state of “perfect” would appear and bestow upon me the A+ grade I so coveted.
Perfect. That was a the ultimate goal. That was my aim in life. Perfect boss, perfect employee, perfect friend, perfect all around person. And of course, when I didn’t perform up to par, when I didn’t meet my goal, my inner critic was right there to help me see what a bad, undisciplined, totally irresponsible person I was.
Then slowly but surely an internal shift started to happen. I asked myself some deep questions about who I was and what I wanted. I thought about whether striving after perfect was my way of getting outside approval and love.
I studied other people – those that were happy and content with their lives. I watched, and I listened. I especially watched and listened to older women, the ones who seemed to say what they meant without hesitation, standing tall in their own truth, while coming from a place of compassion and non-judgment.
What was their secret?
It turned out that they had left perfect behind. They were comfortable in their own skin, setting goals from a place of be-ingness, not do-ingness. They wanted to go to the gym – so they did. It wasn’t a should. They didn’t come from a place of needing to perfect a certain series of moves – they just did it. They jumped in and participated without caring (too much) for what others thought of their efforts. Their inner critic wasn’t an obstacle to living full, vital and ever so productive lives.
If you have to be in control, and perfect is your middle name, then you might ask yourself the following questions before you start your next project:
Is my goal realistic? Think about whether you usually perform to this level or whether this is the level you think you “should” attain? If this is a “should”, then ask yourself whose should is it? Yours? Your mother’s? Your boss’s?
Can I make the process fun, not a chore? Ask yourself whether you can concentrate on the process this time around, instead of just focusing on the result. Evaluate your success based upon how much you learned and how much fun you had. Yes, fun can be a determinant of success!
What do I fear most? If you are anxious before starting an activity, ask yourself: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Confront your fears before you start the activity. By naming your fear, you gauge its potency and work to set yourself up for success.
What will I feel like if I make a mistake? Recognize that many positive things can only be learned by making mistakes. When you make a mistake ask, “What can I learn from this experience?” Don’t beat yourself up. Nurture yourself and give yourself some positive feedback, even if you didn’t accomplish all that you expected.
I’m working on this – constantly. I’m learning to accept myself as a fallible human being. I do not have to strive for perfection. Mistakes are permissible. I have the right to be wrong.
It’s a giant step for this perfect little girl that was raised to please others, but so well worth it.