When Perfect Becomes the Enemy of Good

by | Mar 23, 2021 | Guest Blog, Teenagers | 0 comments

Guest post by Kristie Santana the founder of the National Coach Academy (NCA)

For many of us, it is all too familiar a cycle. The pressure to perform and garner accolades fuels workaholic tendencies, and the moment we encounter genuine failure, we shut down. We’ve hinged all of our self-worth on external confirmations of our success. Frayed and depleted, we enter a tentative malaise. The risk of not doing something “perfectly” has stopped us in our tracks of doing anything worthwhile at all.

For others, the fear of not doing something perfectly may have never been initiated by some original destabilizing defeat. Instead, the defeat is imagined, pre-loaded, having been psychologically absorbed in some way. 

How do we reprogram these patterns? How do we liberate ourselves from being held hostage by the need to “be perfect”?

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I realize the description I walked you through above sounds pretty melodramatic. That was intentional. 

Because that’s the way our minds behave when it thinks about *gasp* failure. 

A great first step is to mindfully assess what the stakes really are in any situation. Get real with yourself about the reality of the situation.  

Here’s an example: You’re giving a presentation and you’re terrified you’ll forget what you’re saying.

As an exercise, visualize exactly that. You forget what you’re saying and… so what?

“But what if they laugh at me!”

That’s okay! You can laugh too! Offer yourself compassion, smile, and say, “Oops! Let me just refer to my notes here.”

Understand that people often laugh out of being uncomfortable. They aren’t laughing at you. They are nervous right there with you! A little slip-up does not undermine the work you’ve done or the value of the information you are providing. Striving to do our best does not mean we are only allowed to celebrate when we execute “perfectly.”

Because let’s face it, the more we allow ourselves to be caught in that pattern, things that someone else would describe as “amazing” start to become “not good enough” for us. 

And the more we paint ourselves into a corner of “never being good enough,” the easier it becomes to convince ourselves that it isn’t even worth trying to begin with.

For whatever reason, this might be the state that we’ve been struggling with all along. Perhaps we learned it from a parent, sibling, or friend group; but either way, we can’t seem to break free from the fear associated with failure. “Giving it our all” seems like a high-stakes gamble we don’t have the funds to cover.

But we do.

Our ability to truly grow and improve will only come from tons of tiny failures, boatloads of embarrassing moments, and mile-high piles of disappointments!

Sounds fun, huh? Well, it genuinely can be.

But it depends on our definition and understanding of success.

You may have heard the phrase, “Failure isn’t falling down. It’s staying down.” 

As a dancer, I’ve found this concept to be pretty tactile, because there are exercises we would do which consisted of us “falling and getting up,” “falling and getting up,” over and over again across the floor. And what you discover by doing this is that there is a way to use the energy of falling to actually feed into the energy required for getting back up.

Falling with ease, without fear or tension, allows you to immediately channel that kinetic energy into getting back up and standing. And it genuinely starts to become fun! The lack of tension in your body eliminates any pain while falling, and you start to explore more graceful, expressive ways to move your body down, up, and forward in space. “Falling down” becomes “Falling through”—a joyful dance in and of itself.

The phenomenon exists in life experiences as well. Think of the “need to be perfect” as the tension in a dancer’s body. It causes way more pain than needed and slows down forward momentum. 

Set your intentions not on being perfect, but on savoring the experience of doing whatever it is you’ve put your mind to. You’ll learn, you’ll improve, and you’ll enjoy it every step and fall of the way.

About Kristie Santana

Kristie Santana is a certified life coach and educator who has spent the better part of 15 years advocating for and spreading the message of coaching and its benefits. She is the founder of the National Coach Academy (NCA) and a founding member of Life Coach Path, an online educational resource for anyone looking to start a thriving coaching practice.


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