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The Pursuit of Less Than Perfect

At the beginning of every school year, I love to scroll through facebook and insta to see the pictures of bright-eyed kiddos, heading off to tackle the new year.  They’re usually neat as a pin with perfect hair and clothing and they look fresh faced and ready to go.     The parents are usually on their game too! There are calendars and charts and plans for family dinners each night to share in the excitement.  Everyone is ready for battle and the execution in early September is TIGHT!      Fast forward a few weeks and things are often much less choregraphed and perfect.     The morning photo shoot and perfect breakfast has given way to chaos in the scramble to get out the door (Just grab a pop tart and get in the GD Car!).    Someone forgot their lacrosse stick and no one will be home for dinner because it’s PTA night coupled with a fundraiser for the school musical.  We don’t care what they are wearing as long as it is relatively clean.  Let’s face it folks, that’s reality.   Sure, sure some of us are all put together for all 179 school days and they are nailing it!  No, nope nope.  Nobody is nailing it and anyone who says they are is a LIAR.    Go on, live your Pinterest fairy tale, we know better.

Don’t hate me, but I contend the pursuit of perfection is futile. Whether its a new school year, a new job, a new assignment at work, a new diet plan or a new attitude.   We all start off just like a first grader (or a first grade parent) on the first day of elementary school.  We have hopes, dreams, plans and we are convinced we are going to nail it.    That’s called optimism and it’s a very good thing.     But so often, we lose steam and the struggle creeps in and we feel like a freshman praying for a snow day in October.       Why does this happen?  My theory is that pursuit of a perfection is just silly. It leads to justification that anything less than perfection isn’t worthwhile and should be totally abandoned once adversity creeps in. Wow, talk about a truth bomb.

Here’s an example.   

A woman decides that she’s going to eat better and exercise every day.    She commits to eating clean 100% of the time and exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes every day.    She won’t eat one processed thing and she will not waiver from her plan.  She is committed dammit.    For the first week, she is a health driven badass.  She’s working out not just 30, but 60 minutes a day.  She’s eating ALL the Kale and she feels really good.     She’s telling everyone who will listen about her lifestyle change, starting sentences with, “Now that I only eat clean……”  She’s kind of obnoxious about it but you gotta admire her resolve.   

Then, something happens.    It’s rarely earth-shattering, it’s usually a small inconvenience that derails her.  Maybe it’s a head cold, maybe it’s a family reunion, maybe it’s a giant zit but something drives our woman to stray from the plan.    A cupcake is eaten or maybe four spoonfuls of mac and cheese, the orange kind which is of course, delicious.    Self-loathing creeps in.    Next thing you know, she skips working out two days in a row.     The plan is derailed.   And she’s not talking about it anymore.  There will be no facebook posts, let’s forget it ever happened.    Until we start a new plan (maybe Keto?) in a few months, maybe after the new year since it’s so difficult to stay healthy during the holidays, after all, FUDGE.   

So, what happened?    Well, I think the struggle began with the plan in the first place.     This woman’s plan left her no margin of error.   She committed to 100% every day of every week.    By living or committing to absolutes, you can paint yourself into a corner that makes the slightest slip up to be viewed in our own mind as failure.     And once you track one loss, why bother right?    We do this all the time.    We allow one thing to completely derail the plan because our brain is working against us.  It helps us to rationalize abandoning our commitment because well, something happened.    Guess what?  Something always happens!  

No matter what the goal, I contend an 80/20 approach is probably much more attainable and sustainable.   And you must be prepared to not achieve the goal but be ready to try again when you stumble.   Because you will stumble.  This is true of a personal goal, a work goal, relationship goal…really anything.   Take a minute and think about all the things you started in the last year that you didn’t finish?    My list is endless.   I bet yours is too.  So how do we flip the script on this?   You have to know ahead of time what is likely to trip you up, plan for it.

For example, for September I originally drafted a plan that called for spending at least 2 hours a day on creation of new content such as training materials, blogs, and social posts.   I know I need to create some discipline around this portion of my work since it is always much easier for me to get caught up in the minutiae of the administrative stuff that appeals to my inner type A personality.    In stating and writing down my September objectives I have clarified my goal to say that I will spend 8 hours a week on this objective rather than 2 hours a day, leaving me more flexibility in the pursuit.    This allows me to front-load the work on a day where I am feeling particularly creative and if I miss a day, it’s not a tragedy.    This is just one hack I am using to retrain the brain not to derail progress with an all or nothing mentality.   AND, if this week, I miss the goal and I only get 7 hours of creative work accomplished, I am going to let myself off the hook, and try again next week.   I’m not pursuing perfect. Take that silly brain!

The bottom line is we need to retrain our brain that failure is ok and that it should propel us to try again rather than give up completely.

In the meantime, let’s return to our back to school parents and students.  Do yourself a favor and give yourself some grace this September.    Maybe shoot for family dinners two nights a week?    Aim to be the carpool queen when you can but know that you will blow it sometimes.  The meal prepping and planning is great, but don’t worry if Taco Tuesday doesn’t happen every Tuesday.    And don’t throw in the towel on the whole plan just because you send your kid with a lunchable one day in an act of desperation. We’ve all been there.    Whether you are embarking on a new school year, a new project at work or a new meditation plan (oooh, I should do that), plan well and then prepare for the plan to fall apart occasionally.  But put it back together again and again.     And enjoy the journey folks because it is going to FLY by!     

The Jackson 5 feels right in our back to school spirit for this week’s addition to the inspireal playlist.

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Jill Parker