If Voltaire were alive, and spoke English, and liked to curse, he might say something like, “Perfectionism gets in the way of unfucking.” Of course, he was French and somewhat classier than that, so his version contains no f-bombs and is far more quotable: “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” The perfect is the enemy of the good. Smart guy, that Voltaire.
So let’s talk a little bit about perfectionism here, shall we? So many people are so quick to call themselves perfectionists. “Oh, I can’t half-ass anything. I’m a perfectionist.” Perfectionists are all or nothing, which is all well and good, unless it results in, well, nothing. Perfectionism gives you a ready excuse not to do things. Perfectionism expects 100% and will not accept anything less.
Here’s the thing: 15%, while not 100%, is still better than 0%. Doing something is better than doing nothing. It’s easy to say, “Well, if I can’t do everything, and do it completely and perfectly, I just won’t do anything at all.” It’s easy because it’s lazy. After a statement like that, whether out loud or in your mind, it’s easy to convince yourself that you might as well not even try, because your results will be imperfect. Which is really convenient, because you’ve just used your own perceived absurdly high standards as an excuse for continuing to surround yourself with varying levels of chaos and filth. You further convince yourself that nothing is good enough unless, at the end of an exhausting and frustrating day of marathon cleaning, your surroundings are picture-perfect and immaculate. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance, however, when we hold ourselves to a standard of a gleaming, shining showroom of a home and then we look around and we’re in a messy, cluttered house with clothes languishing in baskets and the detritus of our everyday lives littering countertops and floors. All because we’re too perfect even to get started.
Perfectionism presents itself in two opposite yet inextricably linked ways: overworking in pursuit of a goal, or laziness in avoiding it. Overworking happens when you just keep going in order to achieve 100%, often to the detriment of your health or sanity. Laziness comes about when you do absolutely nothing under the excuse that if it won’t be perfect, it’s not worth it. And while we’re being so proud of ourselves for having such high standards, everything’s going to shit all around us. So we can couch our laziness in proclamations of perfectionism, but in reality, we’re leaving ourselves in situations that are so far from perfect that the process of actually beginning, or making progress, or improving in any way is beyond our reach. Tumblr user prehyped, a charter member of Team UfYH, summed it up like this:
Perhaps the mentality is formed in school, where you literally do not receive credit for your work until it’s finished, turned in, marked. But in areas of life where it’s more about maintenance and gradual steps to accomplishment, just the act of STARTING is an accomplishment in itself. Doing something is better than nothing, because in this case, something actually counts. It doesn’t matter if the whole kitchen is clean, but the dishes being put away is something! The house might not be vacuumed, but if the dusting is done, the dusting is done!
And when UfYH talks about how marathons can be a bad way of going about things, I realize this is why, because it’s still working with a mentality of reaching a finish line, not considering things unfucked until EVERYTHING is unfucked. It’s still the idea that we’re not successful or truly worthy of recognition for accomplishment until we’ve checked every box.
On Team UfYH, we avoid marathon cleaning by doing these things called 20/10s. Basically, it’s 20 minutes of work followed by a mandatory 10-minute break. I advocate 20/10s because people who are used to marathon cleaning may not realize how much you can actually accomplish in 20 minutes. Regardless of how much it is, it’s always more than you can accomplish in 0 minutes. And it’s 20 minutes less that you have to do next time around. For all of our perceived perfectionism, to be totally frank, you’re never going to get there if you don’t just fucking start. You have to do something. And if you do a lot of little somethings, one day you’re going to look around and say, “Wow. This is so much better.” It may not be perfect, but it’s good. And eventually, you have to learn that good is good enough.
Let go of your (real or perceived) perfectionism. Embrace “a little at a time”-ism. Trust me, you’ll end up so much closer to perfection once you stop trying to be perfect.