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Letting Go of Perfect

Letting go and focusing on what really mattered -- like actually getting to the grocery store or capturing that fleeting idea I had -- didn't seem like an option. Perfectionism was the only choice, and it was so easy to agonize over every little detail that didn't measure up.
09/11/2015 11:34am ET | Updated September 11, 2016
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I've wasted far too much time and an embarrassing amount of paper writing and rewriting words that will only be crossed out, scribbled over, or thrown away within days. If I made a grocery list or wrote out a note for myself and flubbed a word or made a mistake, I threw the paper in the trash and started a whole new list or note.

Letting go and focusing on what really mattered -- like actually getting to the grocery store or capturing that fleeting idea I had -- didn't seem like an option. Perfectionism was the only choice, and it was so easy to agonize over every little detail that didn't measure up.

When you feel as if the only solution to imperfection is to scrap what you have and start all over again, completing day-to-day tasks becomes challenging. In fact, completing anything becomes an ordeal -- so much so that inaction is often the result.

After all, not doing anything means you can't screw it up. When you can't let go of perfectionism, that seems better than trying something and getting the job done but making a mess in the process.

It's a shame, because getting messy provides you with valuable opportunities. You'll make mistakes, backtrack, ask questions, and test ideas. You'll cross things out and redo things and get excited about thoughts that only come to you after understanding there's no such thing as flawless.

The Myth of the Perfect Record

I've ridden horses competitively for a good portion of my life. Riding was something I was naturally good at, and with the exception of one or two big spills when I first started, I never fell off. Other girls who rode at the barn fell off all the time.

Guess who rode better?

It was usually the girls who came off much more frequently than I did. They tried new things, they made mistakes, they learned what worked and what didn't -- and then they literally got back in the saddle and improved.

My pants may not have been as dirty as theirs were after being dumped in the dirt, but my skills stalled. It wasn't until I switched from a gentle, push-button horse to a horse that no one else would ride because she was a handful and a challenge that I progressed.

It took countless times of sailing over my horse's head and landing on the jump she planted her feet in front of for me to start developing a better seat, but I would never have learned to ride at the level I'm at if I didn't accept that getting better meant making mistakes along the way. Without the growing tally of times I'd unintentionally parted ways with the saddle, I'd remain the same.

Sometimes it takes a tumble to realize hanging on to our perfectionism does no good if we want to stop just looking like we've got it figured out, and to push us toward actual improvement and success.

None of us comes without a backlog of times we messed up, and a lack of past mistakes doesn't equal perfection. It just signals an unwillingness to make the leap that's necessary when you want to keep moving forward.

You don't need a blank slate, a fresh start, or a spotless record to do good work and create your ideal life.

Letting Go of the Perfect Ideal and Getting Messy Instead

Every process is messy. Life is messy.

So get used to living and thriving in some state of chaos, scribbles, crossed-out ideas, and crumpled pieces of paper on which were ideas so bad just crossing them out wasn't enough. Letting go means recognizing the imperfections inherent in your work, in your life, and in yourself -- and moving past them so you can make a change and a difference.

Getting off track isn't bad. Not knowing what to do isn't a barrier to trying anyway. Making mistakes doesn't mean you're wrong. Starting over doesn't mean you're destined to be a failure.

Let go of these thoughts and banish any other belief, fear, or whisper in your mind that limits what you allow yourself to try, make, or do.

Creative work -- and in a larger sense, life itself -- loops around and deviates from where you thought your path led. It will beat you to hell and it will allow you to soar higher than you ever dreamed of going. Some days will get ugly. And some days you'll discover beautiful, exquisite things in yourself and in the world.

Take a Risk on Making Progress

Allow yourself to make a mess. Let go of perfectionism. Accept the smudges and the blemishes as part of the process -- and know that a perfectly pristine, blank slate is reserved only for those who don't embrace their power to leap boldly into greatness.

Let life be an adventure and open yourself to what you want to experience. Will it all work out and be okay every single time? No way.

You will experience some really shitty days if you open yourself to what lies in the space between where you are and where you want to be. You will be miserable sometimes. And it will usually be hard. You will question your decisions, actions, and self.

And you will keep going. You'll keep creating because you have the strength and courage to continue putting one foot in front of the other as you seek out your own way. When you can let go of perfect and embrace the risk of making a mess, you can start making real progress toward the life you want to live.

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