Raising Happiness


Saddling Up with Imperfection

September 26, 2010 | Walking the Talk | 0 comments

Embracing our mistakes promotes growth, happiness… and a longer life

“Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good.”
Gretchen (or Robert) Rubin, paraphrasing Voltaire

I am a recovering perfectionist.  Yes, I think of it as an addiction: I am always tempted by the idea of perfect.  I like things to be done well.  I relax when all my “i”s are dotted and “t”s crossed, but not-so-much before that.

However, I have learned that I can’t do everything.  Recently I’ve come to the realization that I’m just too old to work myself to the bone and still feel happy—I absolutely cannot worry so much about the details.  This is easier said than done, of course.  But I take heart in all the tiny ways I’ve kept perfectionism at bay. 

For example, I could point out to you all of the ways that this blog falls short, and the many things I’ve been meaning to fix for many, many weeks.  Like if you look in the column at the right, the archive by topic drop-down box lists not topics, but types of postings.  I will fix this when I have time, but I am not losing sleep over this not-perfect thing.

It is good that I’m having some success not sweating the small stuff, because a new study shows that life expectancy for perfectionists is reduced by 51 percent!  (The good news is that optimism raises your life expectancy.  Whew!)

Even if I’m letting some details slide, I’ve noticed that I still secretly wince inside when I see my kids make even small mistakes.  This has come up lately since my kids’ teachers have said not to correct their homework, so they can see where the kids’ need more help.  I feel like I’m shirking my parental duty by letting them turn in something imperfect, something that would have pained me as a child.

But my kids’ school is making an important point: Mistakes are a part of the learning process.  What’s more, by making mistakes we learn things that we could not learn any other way; by allowing ourselves and our children to make those mistakes, we foster growth.  And when we celebrate mistakes, we avoid the fear of failure that can inhibit a growth mindset.

So this week my Walking the Talk challenge is to embrace as many mistakes around me as I can.  What did I learn from that blunder?  How will I do things differently next time?  And more importantly, I will celebrate my children’s mistakes, so that they don’t “inherit” my perfectionism—and live long, happy lives.

How do you celebrate your children’s mistakes?  Your own mistakes?  Where is the line between not fostering perfectionism and fostering laziness and ineptitude?  What do you struggle with more: laziness or perfectionism?  Why do you think this is, and how are you working on it?

FRY, PREM S. and DOMINIQUE L. DEBATS, “Perfectionism and the Five-factor Personality Traits as Predictors of Mortality in Older Adults,” Journal of Health Psychology, Vol 14(4) 513–524.

© 2010 Christine Carter, Ph.D.

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