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This chapter is from the book

SUCCESS CARD 11: Forget Perfection

Actually, what is perfect? Have you ever heard the perfect speech? Have you managed the perfect project? Have you raised perfect children? Is your marriage perfect? Is your job perfect? Why do we perpetuate the myth that we have to be perfect to be successful? If you're employed, you can easily get caught up in the stress of your workplace to make perfect decisions. If you're at home, you can get caught up in the stress of whether you're managing your home according to standards others have that aren't really yours. You get caught up in unreal life rules such as these:

  • I must never fail.

  • I must always look smart.

  • I must work very hard at all times.

  • I must never get angry.

  • I must always look thin and attractive.

  • I must always play it safe.

Perhaps you learned these rules as a child, directly or indirectly. Incorporating them into your value system only sets you up for stress. You can't possibly live up to these rules; instead you run away from people and problems; you become aggressive; you remain passive. If family or friends who seem to demand perfection surround you, talk to them about how those standards affect you. Let them know if you feel more stressed than challenged by their standards. They won't know how they're affecting you unless you tell them. In fact, authority figures such as managers or parents often share how difficult it is to find the right way to create a motivating climate for those they care about. Not knowing what else to do, they often end up modeling behaviors that their own managers or parents used with them. Traditions die hard.

Real-life rules are more like this:

  • You can't have everything.

  • Things won't always go your way.

  • Life is unfair.

  • Some people will never understand you.

  • You can't please everyone.

Strive to follow the real-life rules and forget the unreal ones. You'll be much happier more of the time.

Anthony's Move Far flung from his known world of sales, Anthony worked hard on a daily basis as an internal organizational development consultant to say the perfect thing and to provide the perfect advice to his internal clients who knew more about the business than he did. After all, they were looking up to him; he was the expert. He listened carefully, paraphrased perfectly, and chose his words with care. Daily he developed a raging headache that stemmed from trying to be a guru to all. The headaches continued throughout his first months on the job until, finally, he admitted to a colleague that he just didn't know how to advise an overworked IT department because it wasn't part of his experience. When the colleague suggested that he simply ask them what they would do first, he tried it. Amazingly, he found that he didn't have to have as many right answers as he thought.

Like Anthony, you could find yourself trying to be a guru. You too could try to figure out the perfect answers without asking enough questions. If you're in a new situation, start asking questions right from the very beginning. Don't assume that you're the only one who doesn't know. Chances are, the right questions haven't been asked in a long time. Many times, people don't ask questions because they think it makes them look less skilled or knowledgeable. Consider this: Highly esteemed lawyers have been paid to ask good questions for centuries.

Find out as much as you can about the people with whom you interact. Know what they typically expect. Who is a stickler for details? Who thinks in big pictures? As you get to know others, you'll be less concerned about being perfect and more concerned about adapting to their specific needs in different ways. The focus will be where it should be: on them, not on you. As you build relationships, mention your past experiences and prior knowledge, such as, Kate, I'm looking forward to hearing about your work with ABC Office Products; I used to know someone there. Or Joe, I heard about your new venture award. Congratulations. Small gestures or compliments usually can't hurt if they're short and sincere. You're establishing yourself as a real person—a person with a life, a past, flaws, and lessons learned along the way.

If you're in a situation with a demanding boss or manager, remember that perfection is rarely a manager's ultimate goal. Overall, your manager knows you're not perfect. Your manager just wants you to make his or her job easier and meet production goals. Managers don't want to be embarrassed, and they want to be able to give employees feedback easily. Instead of thinking about perfection, think about how you can take initiative. What can you add to your to-do list that will make you more valuable? Seeking feedback is one of the strongest messages that you can send that you are confident in what you do. You can say something like, I know you want to meet your objectives, so here are some issues I am wrestling, or I need your help with this project if we're going to meet the deadline that I know is important to you. If you confront difficulties with your boss, it's difficult to let a negative attitude fester.

Honest feedback and understanding also hold true for parents at home with children. Each child is different; you can't be the perfect parent in one broad stroke. Perfectionism and child rearing just don't blend well. In fact, children can teach you a thing or two about the freedom that lies in creative failure and mistakes. As the adult, you're the one who can most easily say you're sorry or that you made a mistake. A key in eliminating perfectionism is owning up to your errors and working together to move forward.

Play The Game: It's Your Move

You've now played the Attitude Hand. To reinforce all of those positive thoughts you've been having during this chapter, draw one of the following cards for your first move. Remember that how you choose isn't as important as choosing now. Write your choice in your game plan at the end of the book. When you've completed the move, return to the game plan to fill in the results.

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