Everyone makes mistakes.
The wrong boyfriend. A career misstep. A bad investment. A lipstick that looked good in the store until you brought it home.
Some people can laugh their mistakes off. They realize that nobody is perfect and move on.
I’m NOT one of those people.
I hate making mistakes. I plan and analyze every course of action to ensure I’m doing the right thing. Once I make a decision, I’m hyper-alert to feedback, looking for any sign my choice was the wrong one.
Not making any mistakes in life comes with BIG payoffs.
No one EVER laughs at you. You’re a success in everything you do. You don’t waste time backtracking. Each step moves you swiftly and surely towards your goals.
Why not aim for perfection? It works, doesn’t it?
Well …. not always.
Being perfect is great as long as you have a fighting chance at not disappointing anybody. But at some point it starts to happen. You start making mistakes.
Just little ones at first.
But the kind of mistakes you NEVER used to make.
You find yourself apologizing … a LOT.
You work even harder. You put new safeguards in place to make sure no mistakes slip through.
But it happens again. And again. What’s wrong with you? You never used to be like this!
Self-doubt creeps in. Maybe you weren’t the person you thought you were. Maybe you were aiming too high. Maybe you’re just an average Jane like everyone else.
That’s how I felt.
The first time was after a major illness. The second time was after having a child. I couldn’t perform like I used to. My brain was fuzzy. My autopilot malfunctioned. I couldn’t rely on myself to deliver the goods.
The worst part was feeling I’d let people down. I’d let myself down, too. I was going to have to lower those high expectations of myself.
No doubt about it: I was a failure.
Perfectionism has a problem. It’s all or nothing.
Either you’re a high performer, or you’re a failure. There’s no middle ground.
Companies want those high achievers. Guys do, too. There’s nothing more humiliating than confessing you’re divorced—or have never been married. Either scenario indicates you haven’t measured up, whether by failing in your marriage or failing to attract a man sufficiently to get a ring.
Failure. Mistakes. Dashed expectations. The bitter fruits of perfectionism.
But then a plane and a boat came to my rescue.
Motivational speakers love transportation analogies. Life is like a highway. If you want to get to Dallas, you’ve got to drive towards Dallas. You’re not going to get there if you head towards L.A.
Airplanes and sailboats don’t work like cars.
For one, there aren’t any roads in the sea and sky. There aren’t any roads in life, either. If life were as simple as taking the right road to Dallas, we’d all achieve our goals with ease.
The problem with life is that you don’t always know where you’re at with relation to where you’re going.
You’re hanging out in the middle of a vast amorphous space with no landmarks to guide you. Even if you get yourself where you want to be, storms are bound to come up, tossing you off course whether you like it or not.
So here’s what planes and sailboats do:
Instead of heading straight to their destination, they set out roughly in the direction they want to go. They adjust their course throughout the entire journey, giving themselves wiggle room to respond to weather conditions and stay close to land in case of emergency.
Instead of going straight from A to B, they zig-zag.
In sailing, it’s called tacking. A sailboat constantly switches direction to catch the wind. They get to their destination faster than if they tried to sail in a straight line.
What planes and sailboats teach us is that going OFF-course is essential to staying ON-course.
When there’s no clear road ahead, going off-course is an essential part of navigation. You notice you’re not where you want to be, and you correct your course.
It’s not like taking the wrong road and ending up in LA when you wanted to go to Dallas. You’re expected to drift in the wrong direction.
And that’s why perfectionists are missing a trick:
They’re not using their mistakes to navigate.
Mistakes are a warning signal, alerting us when we’ve gone off-course. They tell us it’s time to make an adjustment. Without mistakes, we may not be able to see when we’ve strayed from our path.
Perfectionism is like trying to drive a car over the ocean.
You think you can head straight from A to B, but the sea is no highway. It’s constantly in motion. Better to hoist your sails and tack into the wind. You’ll get there faster if you switch directions.
I find that analogy immensely reassuring.
It helps me see that there are no wrong decisions. There are just decisions that take you in different directions.
If a decision takes you somewhere that doesn’t feel good, you can make a different decision.
As long as you keep correcting your course, you’ll get to where you want to go.
So celebrate your mistakes. Take it from John Powell:
The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”