Perfection is my enemy. A former client posted this song lyric on Facebook along with the comment that it slapped her in the face. Yep. Her comment slapped me in the face!
I don’t know about you, but I’m always unwittingly and unconsciously working for perfection. I’m a coach; I should know better! So, how do I allow that to happen? Oh, right, unconsciously. It’s not that I’m going for a perfect anything; it’s just that I get caught up in other people’s expectations of what some aspect of my life should look like.
Expectations feed perfectionism.
Those expectations take the form of articles like this: The 2 Things You Must Do to Grow Your Business (or write a blog post, or lose weight, or raise a child – you know what I’m talking about). And, BOOM, I’m down the rabbit hole of thinking I’m not doing enough or not doing it correctly.
As I was making notes for this post, a thought hit me like a ton of bricks. It occurred to me that perfection – striving for it, thinking about it at all – is limiting – stifling. First, it assumes that my expectations (or the expert’s expectations) of what’s perfect is doable. Second, it assumes that there’s one right way to get to the result I want. Neither of these leave much room for experimentation and course changes. And, experimentation and course changes are where the magic happens. You know, it’s the journey, not the destination!
I have been on a journey for the last 4 years – a journey the universe dared me to take. And, really, it’s pretty hard for me to resist a dare, so I didn’t. Instead, I started on a journey to a radically different life, one I didn’t necessarily sign up for.
It started 4 years ago when my husband, Bo, died unexpectedly. It wasn’t sudden, it took 16 days, but it was unexpected. I was in the middle of my 6th year of teaching special ed – a career I was pretty satisfied with. But, when Bo died, everything changed. You see, I had built that career around the amazing support I had every day when I got home.
And, unexpectedly, cruelly, that support was gone. I no longer left school, where I worked with students with behavioral and learning problems, to return home to my biggest source of comfort – the one person who could erase the frustrations of a long day with challenging kids by giving me a hug and a kiss. It was like having a warm, kissable reset button. I found myself unable to cope with the emotional toll of my career. My reset button was gone.
I knew that I wasn’t going to continue teaching, so the question became “What am I going to do next?” I had no idea. Zip, zero, nada. I knew I would not be in a classroom and that was it. I even gave my notice before I knew what I was going to do next. (That was the dare).
A perfect new career?
Here’s the thing. I wasn’t looking for the perfect new career, mainly because I couldn’t picture it. It was more like I was floating out there, talking to people, absorbing their ideas, and trying to imagine what was next. I thought about technology and startups – two opportunities that Bo had introduced me to and that we had pursued together. You know, I wasn’t really worried. I knew there was something out there, so I kept wandering and wondering.
And then it happened! My friend, Christina, and I were walking at the mall – getting in our 10,000 steps – when she asked me what was next. We talked about tech jobs and startups. I was in the middle of telling her that my oldest son had told me that I have startup written all over me when she blurted out “That’s it! You should have your own startup. You should coach people on careers!” And just like that, I had my answer.
Staying open to the possibilities.
Maybe you’re wondering why it happened so fast? How, after thinking and talking about different careers, I jumped on coaching so quickly? Two reasons. (1) I was open to other people’s ideas because (2) I wasn’t looking for the perfect career; I was looking for the next career.
Maybe I stayed open to the possibilities because I wasn’t looking for the perfect career. I didn’t have any expectations of what my next career looked like. And, after going through 6 careers already, the one thing I knew was that I didn’t know exactly what my perfect career looked like. All of which left me open to explore, and focus, then change focus, and explore some more.
And that’s how I found myself on the path to what continues to feel like the perfect career for me. And it is. But I haven’t executed it perfectly, or have I? I’ve re-branded twice. I’ve changed who I coach – then changed back. I’ve made money. I’ve had months where I made no money. I’ve tried dozens of ideas to market my business and failed at bunches of them.
Why do I keep switching things up? Because I don’t know what the perfect execution of my business should look like. And, right there, that one word, is the problem – it’s the manifestation of perfectionist thinking. Did you catch it? It’s SHOULD. That word, that word trips me up every time. I’m working on exorcising it from my vocabulary (it will take an exorcism to get it out of my head). Should means taking on other people’s expectations.
Taking on anyone else’s expectations of what our lives or businesses should look like inevitably leads to perfectionist thinking. Why? When we take on someone else’s expectations, we try to meet them exactly – perfectly. And that automatically closes us off from the possibility of other directions, input, and ultimately, growth.
Should vs Could
What if we dump should and focus on could? We’re perfect just the way we are (do not argue with me on this one – we are). We live out that perfection when we believe we can explore and grow and try things and fail and then try something else. When, just like The Little Engine That Could we keep telling ourselves “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” we inevitably find ourselves moving to the refrain: “I knew I could, I knew I could, I knew I could.”
What if, the next time you find yourself trapped in the “I should” trap, you shake yourself off and substitute “I can!”? By choosing “I can” instead of “I should,” you claim your right to experiment, find your own path, and build a life and career on your own terms. And every single time you substitute “I think I can” for “I should,” you get one step closer to extinguishing perfectionist thinking forever.