I Said “Great,” Not “Perfect”

I’m driven.  You may have gathered that from the fact that the premise of my blog is to be great.  Being driven is a good thing—it’s the people who are driven who make new discoveries, find new remedies, accomplish important things, go further and faster than we would have thought possible.  They’re the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jrs. of the world who refuse to settle for a status quo that’s oppressive and wrong.  They’re the change-makers and victory-winners.  Being driven, wanting more, striving for the best—all of those are good things.

The flip side can be dangerous, though.  Being driven can become a bad thing when our pursuit of bigger, better, and more leads us to never being able to make a mistake.  Greatness does not equal perfection.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “Duh, Carrie.  No one expects you to be perfect.”  You’re probably more merciful than I am, because I expect myself to be perfect.

Case in point:  in college, I was obsessed with getting perfect grades.  I wanted to graduate with a 4.0 with the fury of a thousand suns.  I worked myself hard, striving for perfection in all my classes.  I set a high standard for myself, and I did everything I could to reach it.  I stayed up late, worked hard, and mastered class after class.

Until my junior year, when I got my first B.  It was brutal.  It was a sucker punch.  I knew it was coming—it was one of those classes that drained me of my will, plus I had had less-than-perfect attendance—but it was still unthinkable.  I had failed.  All that I worked hard for was falling down around me.  My dreams of a 4.0 were done.  My chances of getting into a top-tier law school were gone.  I was ruined.

That’s just one example of my “perfect or bust” mentality.  Now, I don’t wake up every day thinking “I must be perfect.”  Far from it.  Instead, I cut myself zero slack.  Any time I mess up, even slightly, I am hard on myself, unforgiving in ways that sometimes border on self-loathing.  In fact, I’ve noticed that at times, if I can’t do something perfectly, I don’t even try.

Remember that time I got a B?  It may have destroyed my chances of reaching a fake ideal, but it set me free.  I didn’t have to strive for a barely-reachable standard any more.  I could be human again.  I stopped being so hard on myself, and let myself live.

Those impossible standards of perfection we set for ourselves—they’re not empowering us to reach for the heights; they’re clipping our wings before we even take flight.  They’re keeping us so paralyzed that we’d rather let life pass us by than really try and risk failure.

Here’s a reminder for both of us:

Failure is an option.  It’s ok to make a mistake.  In fact, it’ll be the mistakes that teach us the most about what being great is all about.

Let’s be great, not perfect.

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