Message for Perfectionists

A fellow I know well tried to water ski – once. He tried to get up on the skis three or four times that day. Every time he tried, he wound up tumbling into the water. The three guys on the lake with him all coached. They also laughed at his frustration. “One last time!” he yelled. Then, when he was yanked into the lake again, he swam over to the boat. He was edgy for the remainder of the day. And he has never tried to water ski again in the 40 or more years since.

Perfectionists settle for nothing short of a first-rate performance from themselves. When they come across something that has to be learned through trial and error, they become intolerant of their limitations. They pile up points in the things they can do with ease and skill, while ignoring – and maybe even putting down – the things they do poorly.

People with this bent of personality can get depressed, for nobody is capable of premier performance in everything. They get so tense they sometimes botch even the things they are good at doing. They can’t relax. They remove risks from life by narrowing their interests. They get in safe, comfortable, and boring ruts.

It’s liberating for some people to find out they can make mistakes and still survive! If your new dessert flops, the world won’t end. If you make a mistake at work, you won’t die. If you can’t master calculus or statistics, you can still be a good person. If someone hears you sing off-key, you won’t become an outcast.

Thank God for mistakes. They let you learn. They mean you are still pushing out your horizons. They give you a chance to grow. They let the rest of us know you are still one of us.

If you were perfect, your life would be terribly dull. Nothing to learn. No more challenges. No relationships with peers. The rest of us would probably be too intimidated to talk to you, play tennis with you, or work alongside you. And you certainly wouldn’t need for anyone of our inferior status to care about you.

So don’t be paralyzed by your fears. Whatever it is that you want to do and do well likely will be learned through a process that involves some miscues and false starts. But, if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth doing poorly at first. Give it a shot.

Take piano lessons. Write a short story. Learn to use a computer. Paint your bedroom. Water ski. Care about someone.

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