4 Ways Perfection is Our Enemy and 4 Strategies to Embrace Imperfection

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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One of the questions I’m constantly asked is, “Marissa how do you get so much done?” Admittedly I move at a brisk pace. I don’t really have a choice, because I have a lot going on. However, we all do. We all have too much to do and not enough time. We are all somewhat controlled by both the blessing and the curse of our digital devices, which allow us to be accessible & on 24/7.

One of my secrets, however, is that I embrace the idea of imperfection. I will never be perfect. This doesn’t mean that I don’t give 100% effort, or that I’m satisfied with mediocrity. On the contrary, I tend to lean the other way. I set very high standards for myself, and strive to exceed the expectations of those that depend on me. However, I’ve also learned to recognize when I’ve crossed over into the dangerous zone of “perfection obsession,” and I’ve trained myself to embrace that “almost perfect” is usually acceptable.

One of my favorite business models is the Lean Start-Up Model. Rather than having every business element locked in place and etched in stone prior to launching an idea, this model allows for a much more fluid growth trajectory. The founder is able to constantly pivot direction in response to market feedback, throughout the life of the business. Rather than exerting energy in building an immovable & inflexible model, and then staying squarely in that pre-defined box, a leadership team can reconfigure the business to remain relevant & responsive.

For those that may have difficulty escaping the claws of perfection, I’ve identified 4 ways perfection impedes our progress.
  1. It slows us down or stops us from moving through a milestone. The quest for perfection causes procrastination. We become so fixated on the perfect end-result that we don’t move forward until we are 100% there. When I wrote my book, “Built to SCALE,” I stayed focused on completion, rather than perfection. Ask any author how difficult it is to release a book, and they will tell you it is incredibly painful because we always have more to add or more to edit. It’s never really “finished” in our minds.
  2. Perfection causes us to question our own accomplishments and achievements. We become so focused on what we haven’t completed or what haven’t done well that we forget how much we really have accomplished. Sometimes we just have to pause and be in gratitude of all we have accomplished. We forget the struggle we endured to arrive at where we are. This is a self-destructive mindset.
  3. Perfection shifts our perspective from the journey to the end game. Focusing solely on the end-game or final deliverable impedes us from appreciating what is right in front of us. Suppose you never make it to your ending. Suppose you never achieve “perfection.” Will you still be able to look back and appreciate the good that came out of the journey?
  4. Perfection removes the margins of error, setting us up failure. Are you defining yourself solely by a score of 100%? If you achieve 90% of your goals, can you appreciate your success? The beauty of life exists in our shades of grey and in the fringes, not in life’s absolutes, and certainly not with only smooth edges. Life is messy and unpredictable. Very little will go exactly as you expect. I have so many friends looking for the “perfect” job or the “perfect” partner. They continue to dismiss so many opportunities that are right in front of them. Allow yourself some breathing room, rather than only accepting perfection. Total inflexibility severely narrows our choices.

Shifting Our Mindset: Embracing Imperfection

  1. Embrace progress. Create a sense of urgency about what you are trying to achieve. The quest for perfection can stall our momentum. If you have an idea, it does not have to be perfect for you to launch it! Put a deadline in place and move briskly to make it happen. Perfection is the enemy of progress.
  2. Remember that others are not evaluating you the way you evaluate yourself. We are always our own worst critics. And for those that criticize us more severely than we criticize ourselves (which is hard), ignore them. (Reread my article on how to manage the three types of haters in your life). They aren’t in your corner. People generally see the accomplishment, not what’s missing.
  3. Embrace “draft mode.” Draft mode makes everything a little lighter, a little less serious. Most of the time, if you make a mistake, you can fix it. It won’t be the end of the world. You can change your mind. You can move a little to the left or right. For major pushes, and in circumstances where people are depending on you, have confidence that you will do what’s necessary to make it work. For the smaller things, however, move briskly.
  4. Remember to enjoy the journey! Refer back to my column about Rule #6. We must be mindful to appreciate how we are spending every day, not just the culmination of what we are working to achieve. Our endings are unwritten. As much as we plan, and as much as we think we know how things will turn out, they are not decided. Our time is limited and precious. The culmination may or may not deliver the happiness you have attached to the outcome. Your greatest potential for happiness lies in the journey, and in the little things leading up to the end.

I hope this perfectly framed the concept of imperfection for you. Good luck, and celebrate the wins!

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