Kid getting ready to hit a pitch coming his way

How Not Trying to Be Perfect is the Best Path to Get Closest to It

Don’t try so hard.

Kid getting ready to hit a pitch coming his way
Photo by Eduardo Balderas on Unsplash

“The man with insight enough to admit his limitations comes nearest to perfection.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“You’re gripping the bat too tight.”

This was the literal and figurative advice given to me as I struck out for the third time of the day in 9th grade, trying out for the baseball team.

I knew I didn’t belong on a baseball field, as this was my first time really trying to play the game.

However, since I was just cut from the basketball team and decided to quit football after the second day, this was all I had left.

As I returned to the dugout disappointed, I knew that the third strikeout would probably lead to me getting cut from the team as well.

The advice that I was gripping the bat too tight was definitely correct, as I was trying to will a hit from the plate instead of letting it happen naturally.

Since that moment, this type of situation has been a metaphor for many other instances in my life.

I could stress myself worrying about if I wasn’t good enough at something, or I could instead let things happen as they may know that I was giving it my all.

As I have matured, I have learned that it is easily the latter that has produced the best results for me over time, and will probably do the same for you for a variety of reasons.

Perfection is not possible

Even though we all know this first statement to be true, many of us still try to achieve it.

For some, it is a desire to show others they got everything correct.

For others, it’s all about producing results that some people will find extraordinary.

While this is admirable and fair to have something to strive for, the reality is that no one can ever get everything right.

Similar to how some parents push their kids to get straight A’s or be the best at every sport, this type of extreme focus on success is not very sustainable and can lead to eventual burnout.

When you are pursuing a goal or starting something new, trying to be perfect at it is a surefire way to disappoint yourself and increase the chances that you will not stick with it long-term.

This is one of the reasons that most people suggest the best way to stick with a long-term goal is to start small as opposed to trying to take on too many things at one time.

Giving yourself a small attainable goal instead of trying to be perfect will motivate you to keep going as you win small battles that demonstrate you have the ability to achieve certain things.

Trying to be perfect and doing too many things at once will make this way more challenging to do so.

You’ve already succeeded or failed well before that moment

“If I don’t have it by now, I ain’t going to get it.”

That was the statement I tell my friends when they would ask why wasn’t I cramming with the rest of them right before a test.

They would often wonder why I wasn’t looking over material or trying to reread a passage that I knew would be on the test.

I always told them it wasn’t because I was any smarter than they were.

It was only because I had already put in the work since we first started learning the material, and there wasn’t a whole lot else I would get from trying to cram in any extra information at the last minute.

Whether I do well or if I do poorly, the work has already been done and the outcome decided, so stressing about it then wasn’t going to change anything.

People are often so caught up in the individual moment of activity to try to muster everything inside themselves to perform superbly to produce an amazing result.

And while there is nothing wrong with wanting to be focused on doing your best, being stressed about it will hurt your effort more than help it.

In sports, they have the analogy that championships are not won on the day of the match but in all the games and practices before that match, and that’s pretty much how life is.

Ironically, going into it knowing that the outcome has already been decided will take a load of unnecessary stress off of you and allow you to perform your best and enjoy the experience much more.

This leads us to the last and most important reason why being obsessed with perfection does more harm than good in the long run.

You can’t do better than your best

This last truth is one that helped tremendously once I finally fully embraced it.

By definition, there is no way to do better than your best.

Therefore, when you know you did your best, beating yourself up or feeling that you have let yourself down is not a very mentally healthy way of looking at things.

Our success is relative to where we are in life and where we came from.

While others may appear to be doing “better” than you in some way, if you know that doing the best YOU can do every day, then forget about comparing yourself to others.

When people try to be perfect, it is often because they are trying to compare themselves to some idealized image of who they should be or what they should be able to do.

There’s nothing wrong with having a goal or aspiring to achieve something that you may not have achieved before, but when it comes at the expense of your mental health, that goal is probably not the best for you long term.

Instead of trying to be perfect, just try to get “better” each day and improve your skills in the right direction.

As the new saying goes, “Practice doesn’t make perfect…practice makes progress.”

Be proud of your progress. Keep putting one foot in front of the other to get better, and trust the process.

You will probably never be perfect, but at least you’ll know you’ve done your best, won’t be gripping the bat too tightly, and can actually enjoy the journey.