So I know a rather incredible lady called Steph Tranter. She’s a Personal Development Coach by trade, is on a mission to help you ‘be successful being yourself’, has a love of wildlife and is an all round good egg. She works strongly to the method of progress not perfection, something that the world authority on leadership psychology Tony Robbins bases much of his work on. I’d like to think I’ve been hand in hand with Steph and Tony (I’m sure he’d be ok with first name terms) on this outlook forever, but I know I’ve found myself in situations where I’ve let others and their perfectionist ways railroad me into a spiral of doom for both work and play.
Of course we all want a level of success in our lives and to be content – whatever you describe your own version of contentment to be, however if we’re striving for perfection all the time rather than simply moving forwards there’s a big chance of burn out, disappointment and comparison – that good old thief of joy.
We’re trained to rate ourselves from a really young age. From the moment you’re born you get weighed, measured and your progress marked against your peers. You move through school taking exams, you enter the job market where you’re compared to everybody else going for the apparent dream job and then for some, parenthood comes with lots of eyes on you – some judging, some just looking out for you. We often talk about aiming for the top – the top of the exam results, the top job, the top of the parenting stakes (because apparently for some it’s a competition). Progress not perfection isn’t about saying that you should just settle or not have any aspirations, but I do believe it’s about moving forward, doing your best and achieving incredible things.
Please don’t misunderstand me – babies need to be weighed to keep an eye on their health and exams or the associated coursework will always be a surefire way to validate learning, but the purpose and intention of these ‘check ins’ should be about monitoring progress not making everybody feel like they can’t settle for anything less than perfection. We need goals, I think days would go by and you’d feel pretty rubbish about yourself if you weren’t sure if you’d achieved what you’d set out to do, but perfection (especially those perfect outcomes described by somebody else) just isn’t reality.
Take parenting – if you’re urging your child to be sleeping through by eight weeks, crawling at six months, walking just before their first birthday and it doesn’t happen but this is what the majority describe as a ‘perfect child’ how are you going to feel if they don’t hit those milestones? How about childbirth…something that is out of pretty much everybody’s control, your body will or won’t do what it should – it can leave women feeling robbed if they haven’t had those ‘perfect’ experiences and the orchestral music doesn’t kick in at the end (which by the way only happens on TV unless you’ve remembered to download the appropriate playlist AND remembered to pack something to play it on).
We beat ourselves up so frequently if something doesn’t go to (the perfect) plan, but what if we looked back at what worked well and what we want to change for next time instead? Things still might go awry but you’re unlikely to make the same mistake twice if you reflect properly – you’ll make progress. With progress comes results, and they are results that you can define and build on.
Looking back, the first time around on maternity leave I was so close to burn out without realising. A day wouldn’t be a success if I hadn’t managed to get out the house, put a wash on, get the baby to nap in her cot, provide at least three different activities for her and make the obligatory phone calls to Great Grandparents to see how they were doing. Oh how naive I was. What I’ve described there might be right and progressive for some, but for me it was perfection. It was a steep learning curve but I got there with my second – if I made it out the house and remembered the changing bag that was a win. As she got older and slept better during the day I could make use of those couple of hours to rest and stick a wash on so I wasn’t permanently wearing baby sick encrusted threads. I built up to things much more, learning every time I took both girls out with what was going to make life easier, not what was going to keep me up to the standards of any other Mum.
I’ll continue to learn every day about where I can progress – not to be perfect, but to be comfortable, my definition of success, to make life easier and to enjoy living. There are enough people in the world that will sit and judge – don’t do it to yourself as well!