• Barbie Winterbottom

Addicted to Busy III - Need More Time in Your Day? STOP Chasing Perfection!

When we think about all we want to achieve in this life, who we want to be and the life we want to live and share with others, we can create some pretty amazing realities.  I believe our thoughts create the scaffolding onto which our life unfolds and so what we think really does matter.  The key to this statement is the word “we”, or if I am saying this to myself, “what I think really does matter”.  What I think matters in so many ways.  I want to be proud of my work.  I want to be a great spouse, parent, sister, friend, coach, leader and so much more.

We also have to realize our thoughts impact how we feel minute by minute each and every day.  Our emotions are our body’s reaction to what we are thinking, even when we aren’t intentionally thinking about something specific. Our belief systems and other unconscious thoughts are happening on auto pilot all the time, which is why we are sometimes confused about why we are feeling a certain way.  It is also why, at times, we find ourselves laser focused on achieving something, building something or buying something, and yet when we stop and ask ourselves why, we have a hard time articulating why that “thing” is so important. We find ourselves exhausted, overbooked and drained from our efforts to achieve.

I believe we find ourselves in this space because of our often unconscious desire to find perfection.  We push and push and yet it never feels like enough, even when we achieve some pretty great things.  Do you remember how much you wanted that last promotion, and as soon as you got it, instead of feeling the satisfaction of achievement and the joy of accomplishing a goal, you were immediately focused on the next promotion?  Or when you wanted that house with the over-sized garage and you got it and for a fleeting moment it was great, until it wasn’t?

Somewhere along the way we have all created the construct of what we believe is perfection and because each one of us is unique, this definition is not universal and it is fleeting.   What is universal, however, is the basis for wanting perfection. 

The desire for perfection is not because we are all just an extremely driven group of individuals with a common belief that we can achieve the ultimate joy and bliss in this lifetime.  The desire for perfection is also not to be confused with healthy striving to be our best.  The desire for perfection is sadly rooted in something which actually prevents us from being our best and masks our ability to be authentically ourselves.  The desire for and the façade of perfection is rooted in shame.

As Dr. Brenè Brown* explains, “When perfection is driving us, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is that annoying backseat driver”.

I love that quote because it is so visual and so quickly frames the entire experience.  We have created the armor of perfection to keep our true selves from being seen.  We believe if we achieve enough, are thin enough, wealthy enough, strong enough, beautiful enough no one will notice our flaws and we will then be happy.  So we turn ourselves and often everyone around us inside out creating unrealistic expectations and goals for ourselves in an attempt to achieve the literal unachievable.

Our addiction to busy is often a result of our pursuit of perfection and this creates a vicious cycle that, if we don’t get ahold of it, will steal our lives away.  The cycle looks something like this…We need more time in our day so that we can enjoy our lives, but we can’t relax and enjoy our lives until our lives are perfect.  To achieve the perfect life we have to be better, exercise more, make more money, drive the best car, live in the best house, attend the best schools (or have our kids attend the best schools), be the smartest, be the perfect parent and spouse or perfect single person and live like a cast member of Sex in the City or Friends or some other unrealistic version of reality.  This cycle takes over and before we know it, we are miserable, physically ill and completely disconnected from ourselves and those we love.

At work, chasing perfection can cause us to get completely stuck.  When we fear making a mistake, we relinquish our power.  The irony in this is that allowing the backseat driver of fear to direct our path rarely, if ever results in greatness.  This fear perpetuates mediocrity and stagnation and certainly doesn’t inspire creativity and innovation. Our days and hours become filled with unfulfilling work and frustrations, and we pack each and every moment hoping for a different outcome.

If we truly want to step off this path and find time to stop and enjoy our lives, prioritize the meaningful work we want to do and live our best lives, we have to accept perfection isn’t possible or necessary.  To find our joy, we must learn how to say no to the busy and yes to the meaningful.  We have to say yes to some of the hard stuff, like understanding what we are afraid of and why so that we can take steps to move past our fears and we must live and lead with courage.

The people who love us, love us because of our imperfections, not in spite of them.  Real sustainable and meaningful success (personal and professional) happens when we are connected to our whole selves and we accept all aspects of who we are.  We jump in and we try.  We don’t hold ourselves, our creativity or others hostage out of fear of mistakes.  We embrace our mistakes, we learn and we move on.

It can take some time to let down our armor and the idea of perfection and it can feel scary and it can be hard.  It can also be empowering, and open up a world of success and fulfillment in so many ways, both personally and professionally.

When we let go of perfection paralysis, our creativity blossoms, our willingness to try, to stumble and to get back up again flourishes and we begin to feel good about the work we do and the relationships we have.  We are also able to say no to what does not bring us joy or fulfillment and while we may still have many of the same responsibilities in our lives, we are also able to create space for what is truly important…like a nap, or a walk or a long overdue conversation with a friend or co-worker.  We can give our loved ones and our employees the time and attention they need from us deepening our connections and it is in this connectedness that we diminish the flurry of constant “busy” because we will have found the fulfillment we have been seeking all along.

* Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. Brené is also a visiting professor in management at The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and her latest book, Dare to Lead, which is the culmination of a seven-year study on courage and leadership.

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