Letting Go of the Pursuit of Perfect
Kat Dunford, June 26, 2017
This spring, I decided to sign up for the Boston Marathon as a charity runner. As a transplant Bostonian of 8 years, completing the race has been a goal of mine since I first cheered on runners from Kenmore Square. In addition to my responsibilities as a full-time graduate student and my role as a Marketing Associate at Lead Star, the training and fundraising were a daunting task, but one I was excited to take on.
By the end of April, I’d achieved my goal. I’d run a marathon on my bucket list and raised a significant amount of money for Fisher House Boston, a charity I feel passionately about. And yet, I couldn’t let go of the fact that I hadn’t run my goal time. Despite a great training season, I ran really slowly. The temperatures were higher than I expected, and the last half of the race was a mix of jogging and hoping that I could make it through. I was ecstatic when I crossed the finish line, but disappointed the next day. I felt a pit in my stomach each time someone congratulated me on the race or asked how I did.
A week into this sulking, an insightful friend sent me a talk by former professional athlete, Charly Haversat. Haversat discusses our cultural obsession with perfectionism and how it holds us back from accomplishing our goals and enjoying success. She states that instead of seeking perfectionism that will cripple us from moving forward, we should focus on the “good enough.” She challenges us to ask ourselves – how many times has the search for perfect in our personal and professional lives kept us from achieving what we actually want?
I began to think about how often this was true in my personal and professional life. I also thought about how many of us have marathons or projects or endeavors that we dwell on long after they conclude, because we refuse to accept that they were good enough. I can think of numerous teams I’ve been a part of, in which the refusal to compromise held the group back from success. I can also think of friends who have turned in work assignments far past the due date because “it wasn’t quite perfect.” As Haversat found, this focus on perfect holds us back from experiencing the joy of an accomplishment and prevents us from working well with others.
A quick search of the internet will tell you there are many people talking about perfectionism, and even more still struggling to let it go. But, despite this, it is rare to be encouraged to shoot for just good enough.
As I’m just beginning my journey into the world of being a “reformed perfectionist,” I don’t yet have a good answer on how to let go of the search for perfect. What I have found, however, is that asking myself this question has helped in whatever I’m doing, whether at school, work or in running: Is this good enough?