Progress over perfection

One thing that seems to be birthed into little boys is the primitive instinct to want to WIN.  To make sure they arise the victor in well, anything and everything they do. We have two preschool boys and in our home the contests ranges from who runs the quickest, who farts the loudest (cringe!!!) to who is finished eating their food first (to just name a few).  And by default, the one that “loses” reminds the victor that “everything is not a competition” (a phrase I use very often).

During lockdown we try to do even more physical activities and exercises with the boys.  It obviously helps them to develop certain skills and habits from early on, but more so it helps to channel some of the seemingly limitless energy they posses in a positive way. Which in turn, ensures a good night’s rest for the whole family.

One late afternoon not so long ago, the boys were busy with catching and throwing balls outside while I was in the kitchen prepping dinner.  Fortunately, I can see the garden from the kitchen. I watched my 3 “boys” (yes I have 2 sons AND a 37-year old “boy”) having some good old fun… well, until they didn’t anymore.  It seemed like they went from hero to zero in a second. 

My eldest ran to me crying, no actually sobbing.  He was clearly distraught – I gathered that I must’ve missed a massive fall when I turned my back for a few seconds, by his anguished sobs.  When he eventually calmed down a bit, with tears still streaming down his face he said the following:  “I am no good at catching a ball Mommy, it is not my talent and I never want to do it again”.  He carried on sobbing and feeling very sorry for himself.  I just hugged him tight knowing that nothing I say in that moment will make a difference. He needed to cry it out a bit, and so he did…

When he eventually calmed and we could talk about what happened he explained that he struggled to catch the ball (one time!!!) and therefore somehow lost. (He lost at a “competition” that he conjured up in his own mind. A competition that no one else knew about but him).  I saw him catch perfectly numerous times but the disappointment of that one missed catch was enough to change his whole mindset, shatter his confidence which lead him to start over-thinking it. See, in his mind he needs to be able to do it perfectly, every single time.  He instantly felt defeated and didn’t want to carry on. Seeing him being so hard on himself broke my heart a little bit to be honest and I really had to pull myself together to be able to make this a learning opportunity. 

We spoke about the idea that to become excellent at something you will fail at first, you will actually fail a lot and that is exactly why you need to carry on and push through to one day be very good or even excellent at (in this case) catching a ball.  He struggled with this idea and felt that he’d rather do things he can do well or as he calls it “have a talent for” already because the disappointment of not being perfect and the idea of losing is too much for him.  This will not be the last time we will have a talk about the internal pressure he puts on himself to be perfect and that because of him striving for perfection, he will have to learn that it takes hard word and effort to become really good at whatever you want to be good at. I will need to remind him (and myself) often that it is the process of improvement that eventually leads to excellence.

This made me think of the ideal of perfection:  being faultless and doing things faultlessly.  Something I also struggle with.  The debilitating expectation that you have for yourself that eventually leads to procrastination.  The pressure is not only internally but we also measure ourselves and our abilities to what we see externally.  Take social media for instance, we forget that social media is filtered, planned, photo-shopped virtual realities.  We measure ourselves and our achievements to a standard which, in real life, is unachievable.  And by doing this, we set ourselves up for a fall and we ultimately do exactly what we are afraid of – we fail because we never even try.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that striving to become better is the driving force behind most people’s and businesses’ success but wanting a situation, a plan or yourself to be perfect before you make a decision, take a chance or follow your dreams will inevitably weigh you down to a point where you give up before even attempting to try.

The ideal of perfection makes us doubt, question and measure ourselves against people and things that we perceive to be perfect.  What is perfection really?  Who decides what perfection looks like?  Sometimes it seems that we hide behind our “perfectionism” because we actually don’t want to step out of our comfort zones, put in the hard work and make things happen. We need to begin a process of improving until what we do becomes close to faultless, but to begin this process we need to START where we are. We just need to start, full stop.

Studies have shown that, aside from the fact that perfectionists are 51% more likely to die at a younger age, perfectionism is a trait that most companies nowadays deem as a deal breaker when interviewing potential employees.  It shows that the person is more likely to procrastinate, become anxious and stressed, will physically become ill more often and won’t be able to adapt easily to changes.

I have good news that will take some pressure off of you: If you haven’t yet realised this- no one is perfect and we were never meant to be.  Not ONE in almost 8 billion people are perfect! I’ll say it again:  NOT A SINGLE PERSON living and breathing as you do, are perfect. 

The only way we can ever come close to perfection is through Christ.  God’s power is made perfect in our weakness because His grace is enough for us.  The apostle Paul wrote in Corinthians that because God’s power is made perfect in our “imperfections” he will boast more gladly about the fact that he is by no means perfect.   

What we should rather be in pursuit of, is excellence. Excellence does not require perfection.  To become excellent at something requires hard word, perseverance, believing in yourself, standing up when you fall and making progress towards your goals every day. Progress is much more important than the idea of perfection. Progress is possible, perfection is not.

This realisation gives me so much hope and enables me to take the next step in my dream, keeping the bigger picture in mind.  Knowing and believing that true success is progressing towards a goal, getting better as time goes by eliminates the unnecessary and extra pressure to be perfect.

It is only through God’s power that we can experience greatness.  When God puts a burning desire in our hearts, He doesn’t expect us to be perfect, in actual fact He chooses us because of our flaws and inability to be perfect or achieve any form of excellence without Him.  Our response towards God’s invitation does not require certainty it only requires courage.  Don’t overthink it- whatever you need to achieve the Lord’s plan for your life is already inside of you.

In the next blog I’ll be sharing a few practical ways that helped me to consciously overcome my mindset of perfection and change it into a mindset of progress and excellence.

Until then, remember that you are enough, you are MORE than enough! Continue to look after yourself first, make sure you are cared for and ultimately you will be able to #beablessing to those around you.

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