Less Than Perfect

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.”

–       Leonard Cohen


It seems to me that we humans are too hung up on being perfect.  It’s especially prevalent in the workplace where we not only demand it of ourselves, but in our employees. ‘Get it right the first time.’  ‘No room for mistakes in this business.’


The idea of human perfection though seems like a contradiction in terms. By our very nature, human beings are not perfect, and our definition of perfection is based on our perceptions, which are relative.  What’s perfect to one person, may not appear perfect to another.  It’s purely subjective.


Perfect, well, that’s another thing. Even the dictionaries have problems with it.  Most describe it in terms of itself: ‘something that cannot be improved : something that is perfect.’  Then they get into flawlessness and excellence – also terms that are subjective.


Putting the words ‘human’ and ‘perfection’ together seems rather like the ‘wax fruit‘ my mother used to keep in a bowl on our kitchen table. It’s an oxymoron – it’s what you get when you put two words with conflicting meanings together. Perfect humans don’t exist and when we shoot for the impossible, we put undue stress on ourselves, as well as those under our scrutiny, and we set ourselves up to fail.


As  businesses, we want to be the best we can be and those who work for us have a major stake in that process. The value we provide is part of the company culture we live and breathe. Demanding perfection from our people creates a very real psychological pressure and fear that undermines our best intentions, and relationships. We risk damaging the trust we’ve built and losing employee satisfaction.


More than that, research has shown that demanding perfection actually hampers success, and carried to extreme, oftentimes leads to depression, anxiety and immobility. In short, by demanding perfection we set not only unattainable goals for ourselves, but makes unrealistic demands on our people.


Rather, we need to start with the assumption that both we are all working toward a common goal:  to be the best we can be on a daily basis. Given that, we need to back off from expecting perfection in people – and work toward on improving the processes that not only help us work more productively and efficiently, but increase motivation and sense of achievement.


Let’s set standards of excellence and create processes that enable everyone – yourself included – to go home at the end of the work day feeling good about what you’ve all accomplished.  Celebrate each small success. Will you, or someone in your employ still screw up every once in a while?  Of course.  We’re all human.  Acknowledge it, correct the behavior – and move on. By all means keep your goals; but focus on today.


As long as we can ask ourselves, “Am I better today than I was yesterday,’ and the answer is ‘Yes,’ then it’s a good day.


That’s by far, the greatest benefit of being less than perfect.


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