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Stop pursuing perfection and start pursuing progress

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Muthoni G | Mar 8, 2018 | Photograph by: Brooke Lark

Perfection is an illusion. What is considered to be perfect today can be found to be less than tomorrow when someone goes just 1% over the previous ‘perfect’ mark.

Tying yourself to the pursuit of perfection places an undue burden on your life’s journey that is guaranteed to break you because you will find out in harrowing haste that perfection is a moving target. Success can never be achieved if the goal post keeps moving.

It is easy to confuse the pursuit of perfection as striving to be your best. It is the narrative we have been sold and we have bought into it hook line and sinker to the detriment of our own potential.

Julia Cameron, wearer of multiple creative hats including author, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, and journalist points out that “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough? that we should try again.” 

Pursuing the worst in yourself will never bring you closer to the success you so desperately seek. “Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves,” says Julia Cameron.

Research professor and 4-time New York Times best selling author, Brené Brown echoes a similar sentiment in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. She says, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

Ignoring the glaringly obvious fact that no single human being can live, look and act perfectly, the pursuit of perfection has not, does not, and will not at any time, free us of the pain of blame, judgment and, shame.

Marketing wizard and best selling author Seth Godin says that the pursuit of perfection “is the ideal defense mechanism, the work of Pressfield’s Resistance, the lizard brain giving you an out. Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important).”

So how does one pursue progress? 


Embrace the knowledge that you are not perfect

As Rosalynn Carter said, “Once you accept the fact that you’re not perfect, then you develop some confidence.”


Start and don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Nobody starts knowing. We all trip, fall, make mistakes and get banged up and bruised at the starting line and long after. Those who make it through though refuse to quit and view mistakes as a guide and not a condemnation.  


Understand that done triumphs perfect

Done is what gets rewarded. You can’t reward yourself or receive a reward for a thing you are still fiddling with.


Use yourself for comparison

Track your progress not against others but against yesterday’s version of yourself. You are not required to be anyone else but yourself. Embrace your authenticity and let it guide you forward.

Making the switch from the pursuit of perfection to the pursuit of progress will take a moment. To hurry you along Seth Godin reminds you, “You’re not in the perfect business,” and  “Truly perfect is becoming friendly with your imperfections on the way to doing something remarkable.”




Natalie Hughes founded Miss Independent in 2017, to educate and mentor women and help them make their best career and business decisions. Natalie is an experienced business woman and non-executive company director focused on organisational design, strategy, growth and innovation. Her goal is to help you think differently, work differently and feel in control of your own destiny.

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