How To Strive For Better Not Perfect

As a recovering perfectionist, I have to remind myself daily to strive for better, not perfect. 

The story I was telling myself – for the longest time – was that I needed to achieve perfection, part of which probably stemmed from my love of heroes, like Batman or Superman. 

For them, there was always a narrowly defined right way of doing things. Either you were worthy of being a member of the Justice League, or you weren’t. 

So, naturally, when I would make mistakes, my inner-critic would start berating me for not meeting the heroic standard I had set for myself. 

Over time, I’ve been able to flip that around into a new liberating truth:

Perfection is an illusion. Strive for better. Better is infinite. 

That little mantra is something I repeat often to myself – anytime I make a mistake or miss my goals or feel frustrated that I’m not further along in my own growth and progress as a business owner. 

When I’m stressed or frustrated, I don’t always get it right. 

But, it gives me something to aim for. And, I believe that’s a muscle worth building. 

This article is part of a series exploring the zig-zag nature of the startup journey and how it can be disorienting without the right navigational skills. See my two previous posts: 

In this article, we’re going to explore how to strive for better, not perfect – which is a mindset I believe is key to starting and growing a business with confidence. I also believe that the reverse is also true: a perfection mindset is dangerous to the process. 

How to Strive for Better Not Perfect | 321 Liftoff

YOU NEED TO BE BRAVE

One thing I hear often from people with businesses still at the idea stage is insecurity: 

  • “What if my idea isn’t good enough?”
  • “I’m afraid to put myself out there and be judged.”
  • “What if it doesn’t go well?”
  • “What if I fail?”

These feelings are normal. And, there are some simple tactics that can help you feel more comfortable sharing your ideas. But, at the end of the day, you need to be brave. 

According to Reshma Suajani, the founder of Girls Who Code, and the author of Brave, Not Perfect, “we build our bravery muscles one act at a time, big or small.” 

For me, the key word in that quote: muscles

Bravery is an action. 

Here’s how Suajani describes it: 

“Bravery is a pursuit that adds to your life everything perfection once threatened to take away: authentic joy; a sense of genuine accomplishment; ownership of your fears and the grit to face them down; an openness to new adventures and possibilities; acceptance of all the mistakes, gaffes, flubs, and flaws that make you interesting, and that make your life uniquely yours.” 

She continues: 

“The truth is we can be excellent without being perfect; they aren’t one and the same. The difference between excellence and perfection is like the difference between love and obsession. One is liberating, the other unhealthy. …If you’re a perfection seeker and you fail at anything, it can really take you out. When you are pursuing excellence, on the other hand, you don’t let failure break you, because it’s not a win or lose kind of game. Excellence is a way of being, not a target you hit or miss.” 

How to Strive for Better Not Perfect | 321 Liftoff

YOU NEED TO HONOR YOUR VALUES

Suajani’s concept of excellence as a way of being really resonated with me. That’s because “excellence” is one of my personal values. 

Here’s how I define it: 

Excellence is not some far off destination. Excellence is the next five minutes. Everything sets an example that compels others to act in kind. Seize every opportunity to raise the bar.

I’ve found that using my values as a frame of reference is an incredibly useful way of challenging my perfectionist tendencies in the moment. It’s a way of shortcutting me from anguish to action. 

In his book, The Ride of a Lifetime, Bob Iger describes several of his leadership values and philosophies that have guided him and his actions throughout his career. 

One of them is something he calls “the relentless pursuit of perfection.”

Now, stick with me here. 

Here’s Iger: 

“It’s not about perfection at all costs. Instead, it’s about creating an environment in which you refuse to accept mediocrity. You instinctively push back on the urge to say ‘there’s not enough time’, or ‘I don’t have the energy’, or any of the many other ways we can convince ourselves that good enough is good enough.”

Whatever your values are, they should be clear enough to compel you to act in a way that’s consistent with them. 

How to Strive for Better Not Perfect | 321 Liftoff

STRIVE FOR BETTER NOT PERFECT

Now, it’s your turn.

Here are a few things to think about this week: 

  • How is your perfectionism serving you? What is it bringing into your life?
  • What do you need to address or resolve in order to step into bravery? 
  • How do your values support or conflict with your perfectionist tendencies? 
  • What else is perfectionism costing you?

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