The other night I was reminded of just how crippling perfectionism can be.
My husband and I were at a party and we started chatting to a man about gardening. This man proudly told us he had spent thousands of dollars on gardening books over the last few years. He then proceeded to tell us everything he knew about gardening.
At one point in the conversation, I asked him the question:
“What are you growing in your garden at the moment?”
It didn’t make any sense to me. How could this man who knew so much about gardening not be growing a single thing?
Man: “Unless I have lots of land, I can’t grow anything”
Me: “But you can grow a lot in a small space. What about the some herbs in pots?”
Man: “No. I need lots of land …”
This man had every excuse under the sun for why he couldn’t start growing some herbs and tomatoes.
Now here’s where things got really interesting …
Me: “Why don’t you come visit our garden for some inspiration?”
Man: “No thanks. If I come, I’ll be highly critical of your garden.”
Me: (Confused look on face) “But we’re actually growing vegetables. You’re not growing anything …”
Man: “I know, it’s crazy but this is what I’m like. I’m a perfectionist.”
There was the answer to why this man wasn’t growing any vegetables or herbs. He said it himself. He had a debilitating case of perfectionism.
Perfectionism keeps you playing a small game (or no game)
Writer Ann Lamott famously said:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a sh**ty first draft.”
This poor man was too afraid to take the first step. The thought of making a mistake was just too scary.
This got me thinking. You can have every book on a topic and know everything about a particular subject area, but none of that matters if you don’t apply that knowledge.
The former CEO of Yahoo! Carol Bartz knows all about this. She states:
“I happen to be a big gardener and if you don’t kill a lot of plants along the way, you don’t know how to garden.”
Similarly, you can know 100 different study strategies but if you never use them and just highlight and re-read your notes, where’s the benefit in that?
Knowledge is power … but only if you take action and integrate it into your life.
The importance of having a ‘can do’ attitude
When you try something new there’s always a risk that things may not work out. Yes, you may kill your plants. Your vegetables may get attacked by bugs. But at least you’ll learn something in the process.
Remember, all experts once started out as complete amateurs. Everything takes practice.
Author Catherine Deveny has the right idea when she says:
“Great people do things. Mediocre people talk about doing things. Small people bag other people who are doing things.”
So go do things. Don’t get stuck in a perfectionist trap. Pick something and run with it!
What’s the worst that can possibly happen?