Like Best Next Time

This post is by Marly McMillen of NamelyMarly.

I have a few theories in life and one of them is this, “If you want to be good at something, be prepared to fail.” Kind of a negative life mantra, eh? To be good at something, you have to be prepared to do it badly.

Image is author's own

Sure, there are exceptions to every rule, and the virtuosos in this world may not seem to fit my little theory. That’s because they can play Mozart concertos on the piano at age five. But then again, their savant-like talent is usually concentrated on one thing, like that piano. They may not have any idea at all about how to paint or play tennis.

And that’s where my theory comes into play again. If you’re a virtuoso at the piano, the only way to get good at photography is to be a failure at it … sometimes quite miserably.

Of course, there’s also the other end of the spectrum with those who adopt failure as a way of life. They’re like the proverbial fly against the window, doing a miserable job trying to get through the same dead-end corner. But both ends of the spectrum aside, if you want to get better at guitar, or painting, or public speaking, all of these skills require that you do them badly … at least to begin with.

And that’s the thing that holds a lot of us back. Fear of failure, or a desire to do things perfectly, can make you and the people around you miserable.

Like best next time

Like Best Next Time is a phrase a colleague and I used when working on a recent project together. As is typical for a lot of us, we were working for a boss with unrealistic expectations; he wanted a project rolled out on an impossible timeline. And he wanted it to come in far below what we had projected in terms of costs.

We wallowed in misery by sharing our favorite boss-bashing Dilbert cartoons, which surprisingly helped a lot. But time was ticking and we knew we had to get busy and produce real results.

I’m sure you know the saying about project expectations: You can have only two of these three—fast, cheap or perfect. We decided to give the boss the two he asked for, fast and cheap, but perfect would be a work in progress.

And that’s what we did. And you know what? It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable and productive projects any of us had ever worked on. Without the harness of perfectionism tethering us to a defined stake in the ground, we were all able to relax, throw out creative (if not sometimes zany) ideas, and work together with ease. We eventually turned out a product that was beyond all our expectations. It still didn’t meet our self-defined expectations of perfection, but it was definitely a high-quality project with potential to become even better.

How can you know if perfectionism is holding you back?

Perfectionism can take a miserable and sometimes tragic toll on individuals and the people around them. Consider French Chef Bernard Loiseau who committed suicide after his restaurant received a slightly lower rating than it had in the past. In their book, When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough Martin Anthony and Richard Swinson describe a perfectionist as someone who has, “strict standards or expectations for oneself or others that either cannot be met or can only be met at a great cost.”

On one hand, having a drive to constantly improve can actually be a good thing. Problems arise, however, when you raise the bar to impossible levels and place your entire self worth on the outcomes of reaching those impossible goals.

That’s why perfectionism frequently results in depression, anger problems, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

How do you know if you suffer from perfectionism? There are some tale-tell traits. Do you recognize any of the following in yourself?

  • You’re not satisfied with anything less than complete perfection (which usually means you prefer to do things yourself rather than entrusting it to others).
  • You feel constantly worried about details.
  • You think of mistakes as evidence of your unworthiness.
  • You’re overly defensive when criticized.
  • You have standards that are impossible or nearly impossible to reach.
  • You have an all or nothing attitude—things are either good or bad, which can lead to procrastinating. Why start something if it can’t be perfect?

How can you learn to release the notion of perfectionism?

Perfectionism is not only self-detrimental, it also impacts those around you. Acknowledging perfectionistic traits is a great first step and even better when followed by creating a list of how these traits are holding you back. You can also find ways to embrace your complete self, flaws and all. That means learning to love a little bit of failure here and there…as part of a process toward improvement. Don’t avoid practicing guitar because you don’t sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan. He probably didn’t start out sounding so great either.

Lots of books provide steps on how you can be happier, but I’ve found none to be as effective as this one. Learn to live with a “like best next time” mentality. Do your best and learn how to do it better next time.

Are you a perfectionist? Does that hold you back? Share your experiences in the comments.

Marly McMillen has a passion for life, family, vegan food, and names. She writes about all of these and more on her site at NamelyMarly. Marly’s podcast, NamelyMarly, can be found on iTunes, where she interviews people about their names. The people she interviews include famous authors, models, and even the people she meets at the park. Marly is also passionate about healthy food and shares vegan recipes as well.

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