Have you heard the statement that anything worth doing is worth doing badly? It sounds really odd and seems to go against everything we've ever been taught. However, it makes good sense when you accept that it is important to allow yourself to make mistakes. Somewhere deep inside ourselves, no matter how much we strive to be perfect, we know that we learn from making mistakes.
Most of us loathe making mistakes. Yet I once heard a college professor say that a mistake is something that, if you knew then what you know now, you wouldn't have done. Notice that there is nothing in this definition about being right or wrong. It is all about knowing and learning.
Somehow our society has shifted its focus from learning to being right. Everyone wants to be right, and that has turned most of us into perfectionists. Think about it. How often do you praise others for their perfectionism? How often do you strive to do something perfectly? What are the messages we receive from the media about being perfect?
The more we strive for perfectionism the more prone we become to procrastinating. If being perfect is our goal, who wouldn't be fearful about making the next move. Our fear of not being perfect forces us to find excuses for putting things off. Eventually, this procrastination becomes paralyzing. We keep analyzing all the possible things that could go wrong with any action we might take to the point that we are incapable of taking any action.
If you're tired of being stuck in this cycle of perfectionism, procrastination and paralysis, then repeat after me, "Oops." That's all it takes to break the cycle. You simply make a mistake, recognize it, and say, "Oops." Then you apologize, if an apology is needed, clean up the mess, and ask yourself, "What can I learn from this mistake?"
Do you strive to be perfect?
How do you respond to mistakes?
Can improvement be your goal rather than perfection?
Are you willing to say, "Oops" and learn from your mistakes?
Editor's note: This column first appeared in 2006. It's republished today, as David was feeling a bit under the weather.