Saturday, January 13, 2007

The enemy of good

The way we sabotage our own lives

Here it is: perfect is the enemy of good. The perfectionists spend all day, everyday, judging and analyzing everything to death, including themselves. They’re so busy evaluating, they never get around to doing.

Don’t get me wrong, perfectionism in the right place, and at the right time (and for a limited time only), can work wonders. Some of the best business people in the world are perfectionists. Same goes for sportspeople. But they also have the courage to move beyond the calculation, leaving behind all the analysis and then they go doing and becoming their visions of themselves. You see, judging and analyzing tends to turn us into spectators, it relegates us to the sidelines, converting us into conscientious objectors that are all talk and no play. That’s not much fun.

If you’re going to judge, think critically, and choose topics that are worthwhile. Asking yourself constantly: ‘Am I happy?’ or ‘Am I beautiful?’ is not the answer if you don’t get to the Do part. So look at what’s wrong in terms of how to make it right. See what’s wrong but then move on, move your focus onto the doing part. And from there onto the enjoyment, the fulfillment of what doing does to our sense of Being.

Before we waltz past this subject that seems so easy to analyze and accept at face value, let’s examine what the habit of always analyzing does to our lives:
Five Parables…

1) There’s a wealthy man who lives close to me. He made plenty of money as the owner of a construction company. Some years ago he acquired a property at the top of a hill overlooking the city. It was probably one of the most sought after properties in the whole city. He eagerly went about drawing up plans for a dream house. His children, not even teenagers then, eagerly told their friends that they were soon going to move into a big mansion on the hill, with stupendous views. But the builder began to worry that he might make a mistake, he might ruin his perfect idea on this prime property. He handed plans back to his architect, querying how the shade of the house might affect the swimming pool area, and worrying about the impact of the wind on such an exposed site. Today there is no house on the hill, his children have all grown up, and people still call offering millions for the patch of earth between the other mansions already built there. But nothing happens. The wind just continues to tug at the grass day after day after day.

2) My own story is no less tragic or problematic. I decided to train for the Ironman triathlon, but not merely to finish it, to finish it in a specific time, and in fact, quite a good time (10:30). My intention was to qualify for the World Championship in my first race. Yes, it was a crazy idea. And since I didn’t appreciate the gradual step-by-step training required, I tended to do some days that just broke my body down. The result: Just weeks before the race I dehydrated and then became sick and exhausted with additional training. This meant I wasn’t able to get beyond 100km in the cycle leg of the Ironman race. The same thing happened the year after that, except I didn’t even start that race. And believe it or not, even though I changed my standards, I overdid it a third time, but the damage was less severe, and I had time to recover. Not an ideal build-up, but I finished the race, and learnt this valuable lesson: rather do a job well and get it done, than do it perfectly and find yourself unable to finish it (or worse, you can’t even get started).

3) A friend of mine went out with a beautiful girl, and after they broke up, he wouldn’t go out with anyone unless she was also incredibly attractive. The result: he’s been single for most of his life.

4) If you’re an artist, if you have any sort of archive of what you’ve done in your life, whether it’s essays you wrote at school, or pictures you drew in art class, or simply photos of yourself when you were young – don’t discard them because in your analysis they’re not perfect. They’re part of your growth curve, and one day you’ll want to look back and see where you’ve come from. My brother, who is a professional artist, has thrown away plenty of paintings he did while he was ‘finding’ himself. Now he wishes he hadn’t. All of us throw away photos; especially those that we believe aren’t flattering to our egos. It’s your and your family’s history. Try to be honest and objective about it.

5) Finally, do you put details before people? If someone doesn’t do exactly what you want, when you want and how you want, do you become angry? Try to realize that many of those details belong to you, and how you like your world, but they have nothing to do with other people. Attempting to enforce your pet likes on others amounts to obsessive control, and a luxurious attitude to people as possessions. People aren’t things. People ought to respect how you like your meat done, and to knock before entering, and you ought to show the same respect towards them, including all those personal details that preoccupy you each day. Let go of what doesn’t apply to them. It’s just clutter anyway. And the control you have over your own life is just an illusion. Let it go, loosen your grip a little, and learn to accept that life, and people, are more important than the details surrounding both.

How to be an ally with all that’s Good

• Consider the options. Don’t just react, choose from a menu of what you can do
• Choose to do something, rather than to do nothing. Your analysis shouldn’t end in: ‘right, so I’m not going to do this’, or ‘I’ll avoid that person’. Engage yourself with people and stuff to do. Find and focus on the reasons to engage, not on the reasons not to, and you’ll really start to grow
• Accept that lowering standards is sometimes beneficial, not only to oneself, but to others, think critically when doing so, and then get to the doing part
• Accept assistance – people who don’t accept help are very hard to help. Don’t be afraid to second-guess yourself, or to get a second opinion. Ask someone close to you: ‘Am I being anal/stubborn/stupid about this?’
• Accept (and not just passively) the good in others. Compliment them, thank them, notice them, and respond to them, and they’ll soon take care of you in the same way. We all need support and encouragement, so be supportive and encouraging.

In a nutshell: Perfectionists – the enemies of good – need to be less analytical and more practical. Now I think you’re beginning to realize that when you’re inspiring instead of criticizing your ability to suspend judgment increases, you’re releasing others to be themselves around you and you’re seeing flow returning to your own life, creating energy and joy. So instead of preying on the good, release it. Remember to have fun. If you’re not, you’re still analyzing too much.

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