I used to be a perfectionist
but now I am a good enough-ist, because life’s too short to fret over things that don’t need to be perfect and can be good enough. I have learned that being happy with good enough is all we can expect from ourselves and others. Perfection doesn’t exist and is an unreasonable expectation. Being good enough is good enough for me now, but wasn’t always.
I don’t need everything in my life to be perfect. I don’t need everything I do to have perfect results. I don’t need my plans to work out exactly as I planned them to. I used to want these things, but as I have become an adult I have learned a lot about myself and what I think is important.
I used to be the type of person, from a young age, that had a plan for everything and everything I did had to happen according to that plan or I had to achieve the results I was looking for. If I didn’t, I would have a meltdown or I would feel so badly about the results of my plan that I would shut down. I was inflexible and thought everything that didn’t happen the way I wanted it to was a failure, regardless of whether it was or not.
I grew up sensitive, fragile, and a perfectionist and that’s absolutely miserable. I wanted everything I tried for the first time to be perfect regardless of my skill level. I had unrealistic expectations for myself and everyone else. As you probably know, this is a severely flawed way of thinking and living. People, no matter what, are not perfect and having expectations (especially unrealistic expectations) was not only unfair but it was delusional.
I stopped trying new things because I was afraid I wouldn’t be perfect at it. I would procrastinate because not getting something done was better than completing anything less than perfect, or I would work incredibly hard and long on something that wasn’t important because I wanted it to be perfect. Even my daydreams weren’t “good enough” for me because perfect was the only good enough for me.
It wasn’t until I got into high school and started really dealing with my major depression (that I address in depth in this post) that I started to reassess what was important to me. I realized that I couldn’t be perfect and that it was cruel and unfair of me to expect that from myself or anyone else.
Being a perfectionist hurt me and my relationships
I expected myself to be perfect and produce perfect work, I also expected the people around me to do so as well. This hurt me and my relationships.
I was so preoccupied with results that even at a young age I freaked out and had an existential meltdown over a missed stripe in my kindergarten cut and paste United States flag. I would draw something and if it wasn’t what I had imagined in my head, it was garbage. I was so hard on myself I didn’t allow myself to be creative, make mistakes, or have fun outside of the plan. I would sometimes get self destructive with my frustration and anger. The anger was the hardest on me. I was always so angry with myself for not being perfect.
I was also angry with my friends and family for not being perfect. I was always disappointed because I was so inflexible I couldn’t stand a change in the plan, anything unexpected, or anyone behaving or doing something that I had not predicted or wanted.
Perfectionism is selfish and delusional and it hurt me and my ability to make friends and have happy relationships because I expected too much of myself and others. Now that I’m okay with “good enough” I can respect when people are doing their best and when they aren’t and that it has nothing to do with me. I used to take others’ mediocrity and bad days as a personal slight. Now that I am a more reasonable and less selfish person, I see that everyone is mediocre at many things, few are perfect at anything and it’s unfair to hold others to unrealistic expectations that you yourself cannot meet. Becoming okay with good enough has allowed me to appreciate people for being people and appreciate that in myself too.
Perfectionism was holding me back from trying and learning new things
Because I was so caught up in expectations of perfectionism, if I had any seeds of doubt or insecurity, I wouldn’t do ‘the thing’ because I would rather it not be done than it be done and not meet my expectations. I had no concept of what learning actually was. I wanted to know by osmosis. I wanted to be good on the first try and if I wasn’t, I was a failure and would never be good.
This stopped me from learning and trying new things because I wanted to be good immediately and couldn’t face the fact that I might not be, so I never ventured out of my comfort zone. This stagnated me as a person because I wasn’t trying or learning new things.
Now that I am a good enough-ist I expect my first attempt to be terrible and I do it anyways because I want to do new things for me and for fun, not because I want to be the best. I understand that being mediocre at something isn’t a personal failing. Being bad at something is the first step to being good at something.
And being bad at something you enjoy is not a good reason to stop doing the thing. If you are bad at something but you love it, then continue doing it. It doesn’t even matter if you ever get better. Persistence is noble when you are doing something you enjoy in spite of your skill. Spending time on things that make you happy and you love are always worth the time. Spending time on things that aren’t important for the sake of perfection isn’t worth the time.
Being a perfectionist wasn’t worth the time
Spending time on tiny, unimportant things because you seek perfection and nothing else, isn’t worth it. When I say focus on important things, I mean things that bring you joy, further your goals, help those you love and care about, and can make a major difference in someone else’s life for good. Those things are important. You know what is worth your time and effort and what isn’t, even if perfectionism clouds that.
If you find yourself spending an absurd amount of time on something that is making you miserable for any reason, it’s probably not a priority and isn’t important to you. My rule of thumb is that if I find myself complaining about something, dreading doing it, and procrastinating, then it’s not a priority for me. If it’s not a priority, then I should spend my energy on things that are. If it can be good enough, let it be good enough.
Perfection is an endless chase. Odds are, nothing you do will be perfect because perfect is a constantly moving target and leaves no room for learning or improvement. The goal for most things is to be satisfied, content, or (inclusive “or” here) proud with what you accomplish. Good enough can achieve this without the exhausting effort we put into perfection and we might even learn something that makes us better in the long run.
Doing your best is worlds better than being perfect
Good enough is about doing your best given your skill set, time frame, and investment in the ‘thing.’ We should always strive to be and do our best, and our best can change depending on the day, context, and task. We are human after all, and life is unpredictable. We can’t be THE best at everything we do, but doing our best allows us to learn and grow.
Now that I have accepted good enough into my life, I am often content and pleased with myself and those around me. This doesn’t mean I can’t recognize bad or half-assed work. Being okay with good enough is recognizing the context of the ‘thing.’ It’s recognizing a combination of skill level, effort, and purpose. When I was a perfectionist, I was terrible at understanding these three things and how they work together. Now I can see that a dense and lumpy loaf of homemade bread is good enough when a half-assed presentation to your boss probably isn’t.
Good enough means different things for different tasks and projects. Good enough can mean this is as good as it is going to get given the timeline, or it can mean this is as good as its going to get with my current skill level, or this is as good as its going to get given the circumstances.
The thing about good enough is that it doesn’t embrace mediocrity; it embraces realism. It’s realistic about expectations and results. Good enough means, to me, I am learning how to be better because with good enough, there is always room for improvement. Good enough encourages me to learn and practice things that are important to me, and to not sweat the stuff that isn’t a priority.
Becoming a good enough-ist has allowed me to grow and learn and be the best I can be, being a perfectionist only made me a stagnated, selfish and unreasonable person. Now, perfectionism isn’t “good enough” for me.