Recently I re-did one of my bathrooms. Our home was built in 1990 but somehow decorated in 1970, and after a couple years of staring at that disco-inspired atrocity I was compelled to make it right. So I ripped everything out, including the walls, and rebuilt it. Gone are the flaking brass finishing, the perfectly-maintained-yet-suuuuuper-tacky wallpaper, the hexagonal sink, and the red formica countertop. In their place are prettier things that somebody 30 years from now will rip out and replace because they’ll think I was tacky.
Anyway, I did it, and it’s done. This is not the first bathroom I have remodeled, and it won’t be the last. And every single time I do I manage to find a couple things I could have done better, glaring imperfections that annoy me every time I see them. It’s been a couple months now since I finished, and I can still point to the spot on the floor where the tile isn’t perfect because my last one chipped when I was cutting it and I was not going to buy an entirely new box just for one stupid tile so I used some extra grout to hide the defect. There are a couple other mistakes as well, but that’s the one that really gets me.
However, I’m the only one who cares. Nobody else notices. In fact, nobody else even sees it when I point it out to them, which some masochistic part of myself is occasionally compelled to do. Everyone says it looks great – and since only a few of the people who have seen it love me and are therefore required to be nice to me, I suppose I should assume that they aren’t all lying.
I’ve gone through this process often enough to know how it works. I will do something, and it will not be perfect. That lack of perfection will infuriate me, but it won’t even register with anyone else, and then the world will go on and I will have a much nicer bathroom than I did before – or a new deck, or an article for my newsletter, or a birthday party for my children that maybe wouldn’t go viral on Instagram but which made my kids awfully happy.
I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t shoot for perfection. Striving to excel is why we have artistic masterpieces and Olympic medalists and electricity that turns on 99.999999% of the time we want it to – and on the other hand, not trying very hard is a great way to go nowhere in your career.
What I’m trying to say is that there are plenty of times – the majority of them, I would argue – where getting it done is better than getting it perfect. Most of what we do every day is not life-or-death, and agonizing over the perfect word or paint color or ingredient often prevents us from moving forward in situations where our only real critic is likely to be ourselves. My wife sometimes gets nervous about dancing in public because she’s afraid of what other people might think of her, and I keep trying to figure out how to tell her that nobody cares what she looks like without actually saying, “Nobody is paying attention to you.” If anyone has a good recommendation about how to properly word that piece of advice, I’m all ears.
Knowing how this works doesn’t prevent me from getting annoyed when I screw up. But it does allow me to move forward even though I’ve screwed up. I’ve written several books, delivered thousands of presentations, and created hundreds of training videos, and I don’t think there’s a single one of them I think couldn’t be better than it is. But I’ve made them anyway, and people mostly like them, and I’ve built a career out of it, and none of that would have happened if I’d sat around waiting for everything to be flawless.
So this month, focus on doing the best you can and accepting the inevitable mistakes and imperfections you’ll make along the way. As my father likes to say, don’t beat yourself up unless people come to you and say that you deserve to be beaten. I’m guessing that won’t happen.