Note: if you want the FULL scoop on this topic, get my latest book, How to Be an Imperfectionist.
You won’t find a flaw in perfection. It’s an oxymoron. But there is a flaw in trying for perfection.
Impurrfekt . 2282. 44 %zz%@!
As I look at the the misspelled word and the misplaced numbers and symbols above, I understand exactly what imperfection does. It enables progress. If I wanted that line to be blameless and without fault, I’d have to stop writing right now and go fix it. Instead, I’m beefing up the word count and spilling out new ideas!
Fixing Things Isn’t The Point
Is the primary goal in life to fix what’s wrong?
Is the primary goal in writing to make it perfect technically?
The “fixer-upper” perspective is negatively charged. We all have problems, but trying to fix them constantly is exhausting, like trying to plug up too many holes in a leaky barrel. Have you experienced this? You finally fix a nagging problem, which frees up your attention so that you notice another problem. The cycle never ends.
The Upside Of Recklessness
Enough about the problem. Perfectionism is a well-known life-halter, so let’s explore the other side—imperfection.
Some people live with reckless abandon. They’ll try things that they seemingly shouldn’t. I’ve been guilty of quietly judging these people at times, analyzing how they do so many things wrong and how “I wouldn’t make that mistake.” But I often find myself jealous of them, because they did something while I did nothing in perfect fantasy land.
There’s was an author who copied some of Mini Habits: he completely ripped off much of the title and almost the entire table of contents. When I looked into him, I noticed he had published 80 books on Amazon in 8 months. Sure, most of them are haphazardly written with seemingly no editing, and given that he copied from my book, I’m sure he “borrows” from other books too, but I still have to admire that he freaking published 80 books in 8 months. There are so many people out there too intimidated to write their first book, and this guy is pumping them out like a machine.
His unethical practices aside, this is exactly the type of guy people will look at with a judgmental eye. He published sub-par work. He has surely embarrassed himself with some of his titles. But he’s making money from his books, and has an opportunity to learn and improve from his now-extensive experience.
Any time you are jealous or envious of another person, it’s often because they’ve done or something you think you could do better (or have something you think you deserve more). It’s the average guy with the beautiful wife; the mediocre writer who writes books; it’s imperfect people who have found success despite their flawed execution.
Did you know that Sylvester Stallone and Tina Fey each have partial facial paralysis? These two actors—I like them both—are in Hollywood’s biggest movies and TV shows. There are people without facial paralysis who are likely jealous and even angry that their perfectly functioning, symmetrical face hasn’t brought them the level of stardom they desire. Even in the most glamorous and looks-obsessed industry, imperfection is abundant and acceptable.
I’ve already written about Sly’s amazing story; if he needed things to go perfectly to get to where he is now, he never would have made it. At his worst, he sold his dog and best friend and starred in an “adult film.” For a lot of people, it was a sign of catastrophic failure (and he said it was his low point in life). But Sly didn’t let his problems stop him from moving forward. That’s the key.
How To Change From Perfectionist To Imperfectionist
Perfectionism and imperfectionism are 100% determined by what you care about. To be an imperfectionist, and make excellent progress, all you need to do is manage your cares. If you follow this advice, I guarantee that you’ll be happier with your life:
- Don’t care about results. Care about putting in the work.
- Don’t care about problems. Care about making progress despite them. Or if you must fix something, focus on the solution.
- Don’t care what other people think. Care about who you want to be and what you want to do.
- Care less about doing it right. Care more about doing it at all.
- Don’t care about failure. Care about success.
- Don’t care about timing. Care about the task.
In general, the idea is to not care so much about conditions, and care more about what you can do right now to move forward.
Life is a constant stream of checkpoints: at each checkpoint, you can move forward, stay still, or move back. If you stand still, you’ll be pretty safe. You won’t get scratched by the thorns. You won’t trip on the rogue tree root. You won’t have to fight a bear.
Moving backward is even safer than that. You can go right back into your house of comfortable bad habits and meaningless activities. Not only will you not have to face the bears and thorns, but you can sit down and eat cake all day. I prefer ice cream, but this is your fantasy and people like cake. (Fun fact: CAKE is my favorite band.)
Moving forward is the risky choice. You’re bound to be scratched by thorns, hurt your knee when you trip on the tree root, and wrestle with a bear. And someone might notice any one of those things. There’s no way you’re making it through this forest comfortably.
Then Why Move Forward At All?
The decision to move forward is not as obvious as it seems. And most self-help advice is too extreme in that it tells you to jump in without looking. The reason we hesitate is because we’re smart. We know how important safety is. We know how nice comfort is. Much of modern society is based on keeping us comfortable and safe.
But most of us have desires that require that risks be taken. You won’t be successful in business without risk. You won’t find a partner without risking rejection. Most good things are gained only by first making yourself vulnerable.
Back inside your comfortable home, you can fantasize about what something might be like. You can envision it perfectly. Heck, you can watch a movie and see someone else do it. The only problem is: that’s not squeezing the most out of your life. That’s not inspiring you or anyone else.
Rule of thumb: if you think you can recover if it goes poorly, DO IT.
It’s worth it to get scratched in the face if you reach the treasure chest. You can’t reach your proverbial treasure chest without having a problem on the way there. The world has too many variables that can mess you up. You are imperfect, and will create your own problems too.
Imperfection isn’t glorious and I’m not glorifying it—it’s just the way forward. There isn’t another way, and when you refuse to believe it, you’ll be the person who turns away from opportunity, looking for an alternate trail that has no thorns.
There’s a possible path in front of you right now. What is it? Writing a book? Recording a music album? Starting a blog? Emailing the president? Asking for a raise? Finally going to Sweden (seriously, you’ve been planning on it for years)?
Whatever the path is, you can see the imperfection, can’t you? You know that not everything is in place yet—the time, the money, the energy, the skill, the experience. You know that you have a lot to learn before you can do it masterfully. You know that others have done it better than you ever will.
Screw those thoughts. Decide to move forward right now. Here’s what I did: I emailed the President. Your reaction might be that it’s cool I did that. Or you might think that it’s unimpressive and a poor way to express the power of imperfectionism. If so, there’s irony in that, because while it might not be the most amazing thing you’ve ever heard of (i.e. not perfect), it’s still something I did that matters to me.
Now it’s your turn. Do something important. It doesn’t have to be the single best thing you can do and it doesn’t have to be done well.
Try being an imperfectionist. I think you’ll like it. There’s far less pressure.
The subscriber-only message on 3/25/14 expands upon this post!
The expanded content will show the email I sent the President and a few final notes. Join Deep Existence to read the rest.