Stop Expecting Others To Be Perfect
Two months ago, I tried to write a post about why perfectionism is a terrible standard to live by. I ended up not posting it because I didn’t feel it was good enough. The irony should be obvious.
When I took my initial stab at the subject, I felt there was a missing piece in my understanding. While those writers who claim “trying to be perfect is limiting you” make a valid point, I knew there was more to it. Why exactly do we aim for perfection in the first place?
Well, I think it’s because we project that expectation onto others.
Many of us don’t realize that when we try to correct ourselves by saying “I need to stop striving for perfection,” we’re falling short because we still expect that unattainable standard from other people.
In terms of writing, the existence of tools like Grammarly or the Hemingway App initially leaves me suspect of emails or websites where there are glaring typos. Like, no ragrets-type typos. But just because someone misspells a word or forgets to place a period, does that mean they are less worthy as a writer? What if they are practicing a new language or simply labored over that webpage for so many hours that eventually all the letters and symbols became such a blur that the obvious grammar mistake was no longer obvious? We don’t know all the circumstances of a mistake or an oversight.
(Of course, this is by no means to say that scammers don’t exist and in fact, have a track record of misspellings and grammar issues — it’s a fine line to balance.)
I’m a believer that the way we treat and judge others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves. Until we stop placing this expectation on others, telling ourselves to stop striving for perfection is a moot point.
There is another element to this: we need to reconcile that what is perfect in one person's eyes could be disastrous in someone else’s. Take, for example, the weather: the day could be sunny at a comfortable 75 degrees F — that would be my idea of perfection. But someone who prefers cloudy skies or the rain might suffer from a terrible mood if they had to endure my perfect day.
While that may be a trite example, it illustrates the point that lived experiences and preferences influence what we perceive as beautiful or unsightly. It will also have an influence on what we perceive as solid work or something so lacking it hurts.
Someone, even if it’s just one other person, will appreciate your work. But you will never receive a unanimous appraisal. Let’s face it: there are millions of people who can’t even read the language you write or speak in! And then there’s style, purpose, method, etc. to factor in as well.
But abandoning perfection is a two-way street. Think of the reasons why we strive for perfection. One reason would be so that our work is noticed for its “excellence” (again, subjective). It could be to avoid the awkward or humiliating moment of being corrected by another individual. But overall, it is for acceptance. We want others to like what we do, so we labor tirelessly over making sure what we produce is nothing shy of amazing. And we do this because we know deep down that if someone else's work is not perfect, we are going to judge it.
Think about how rejection feels for a moment. Even if you take criticism well, there is someone out there who would make your heart sink if they were to tell you that your projects suck — that they were less than perfect.
Producing quality work should be a goal of ours, but perfection is debilitating. If we can create a culture where mistakes are not public enemy #1 and instead welcome failure or oversight as an opportunity for growth and collaboration, then we might achieve more as a society.
If we are going to be kinder to ourselves in not striving for perfection, we need to extend that kindness to others as well.