Would you rather be perfect or perfectly happy?

July 12, 2011

PerfectionistA perfectionist rejects: failure, painful emotions, success, and reality. According to Tal Ben-Shahar in his new book The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life, “perfectionists reject everything that deviates from their flawless, faultless ideal vision and as a result suffer whenever they don’t meet their own unrealistic standard…”

Are you among those who believe “If you don’t try for perfection, you will never achieve anything great”? If you do, you might be misguided for two reasons:

1) According to Tal, those who can accept failure tend to move on quicker and begin working on the next new thing. My dear friend Arjun Gupta had two start-ups fail before he launched Telesoft Partners. He didn’t let the failures consume him, and he’s now one of the most successful Venture Capitalists in Silicon Valley. Thomas Edison was known to say, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work.” He didn’t get hung up on his failures. He learned from them and moved on.

2) You may be keeping yourself from being happy! The more I read on the subject of happiness, the more it seems to reduce down, like a great French sauce, to one thing: lowering your expectations. If you lower your expectations and learn to appreciate what you have accomplished, you will be happier. This does not mean to stop trying because if you do that you will also stop being happy. It is about finding FLOW, developed by  Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, so that your challenges and skills align. If you are too challenged you will find yourself frustrated, and if you are under-challenged you will find yourself bored.

Not convinced? Imagine how those around you feel. Those who work with perfectionists tend to feel judged, dejected, insufficient, and alone. Do your coworkers feel that way?

If you are leading others, perhaps it is time to recalibrate how you look at the world. To learn how to move from being a perfectionist to an optimalist, check out Tal Ben-Shahar’s book.

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