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  • Meg Gallagher

Perfection is a lie we tell ourselves to keep us playing small

Who loves failing? Can I hear a YAY? Not many huh? Failure usually hurts in some way, even when we know it is a key to learning and growth. Some failure can hurt others and even cause major problems, but thankfully most failures aren’t that catastrophic. Most failures actually seem to end up hurting our pride and our sense of self more than anything else which whilst not catastrophic can have serious ripple effect. The pain caused by failure is there to protect us so we remember not to make that mistake again. It was extremely useful in the ancient past when our lives literally depended on not repeating mistakes like wandering near a certain cave where something with big teeth and claws was hanging out! However our pain avoidance muscles can play tricks on us in the modern world, we are no longer likely to be eaten by a sabre tooth tiger (feel free to replace this with a more accurate ancient animal) if we make a mistake but the weight of public opinion, self judgement and anxiety seem to have teeth and claws too. And once their claws sink in it can be hard to shift them. So we protect ourselves.

We avoid the risk of making mistakes.

To our own detriment.

One of the fanciest ways to protect ourselves is perfectionism which often comes with a range of side-kicks, my favourite being procrastination. Striving for perfection seems like admirable goal and to be fair I am very grateful if the surgeon who operates on my loved ones has a desire to be as close to perfect as possible. But how many times do we put off things because it isn’t perfect? We don’t go for a walk because the weather isn’t as nice as it could be. We don’t call a friend because we aren’t feeling as happy as we think we should be. We don’t go out because we haven’t lost as much weight as we wanted to. We don’t follow through on the idea, start the business, write the book etc because we haven’t got the time/energy/finances/support to make it perfect. We put this all off for a sunnier, happier, skinnier, slower day… that never comes! This perfect day is a lie we have been told, usually by people trying to sell us something, and it’s one that we keep telling ourselves. To an extent it keeps us safe but it also keeps us small.

A rich, fulfilling life isn’t perfect. I recall a line from a poem often quoted by a wise mentor of mine, Trevor Grice, ‘if it weren’t for the rocks in its bed, the stream would have no music’. We need the ups and downs of life to truly experience the range of emotions that give life its colour, goodness the world would be boring if everything was coloured sunshine yellow! Mediocrity is not the solution to perfection by procrastination though. Stepping bravely, embracing our vulnerability, toward uncertainty is what we are aiming for. Embracing good enough and kaizen (the concept of small, seemingly imperceptible, changes over time) is part of it. Trusting ourselves and others more helps. Letting go of trying to control everyone and everything is certainly going to reduce our stress and give us some relief. This means accepting that others aren’t perfect either.

I believe strongly that we all have gifts and talents. I worry that many of these gifts and talents never get fulfilled because of the lies we tell ourselves about perfection. You are already good enough and you never know just how great you could be until you take that leap of faith to find out… are you ready?

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