I’ve already hinted that my adoptive father, Jack, was a very bad man. My Japanese adoptive mother was quiet and kind. Her father was a Buddhist priest and she was raised in a temple near Hiroshima. She went to college in Tokyo. In Tokyo, she met Jack. How or why she married Jack in her early 20’s, I don’t know. All I know is that she was more or less an oppressed military housewife, undoubtedly not how she had seen her life unfolding. She foresaw much more for me.
My adoptive mother was kind but my whole life was centered on perfection, my perfection.
I took piano lessons until I was 15. I was accomplished and I liked it. One day my piano professor, though praising me, told my mother that I would not be a concert pianist. That was my last piano lesson.
As a sophomore in high school, I brought home a math test with a score of 98. When my mother came home, I came straight out of my room - test in hand. “This was the hardest test yet and the next highest score was 87!” My mother looked it over and calmly responded, “What happened to the other two points?”
I can re-live dozens of these vignettes. I’ve carried them around all my life. I’ve been very conscious of every 98%. Over time, this need for perfection had me starting projects over and over again from scratch or not doing something for fear of lack of perfection.
In 2005, I reunited with my biological mother’s family in Japan. My uncle took me to the Toshougu Shrine near Nikko, Japan. The Toshougu Shrine is the ornate
masterpiece enshrining the Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The shrine is hand carved and not a nail can be found. My uncle pointed out four columns to me. Three columns show carved curls pointing up and one column shows carved curls pointing down.
My uncle explained that despite the perfection of the entire temple, this one column was put in upside down to acknowledge that perfection was not achievable and to avoid the arrogance that comes from thinking we can be perfect. So much for perfectionism just because I’m Japanese!
Perfectionists struggle because perfection is not achievable. Perfectionism is not a helpful formula for success or a healthy mindset. If the meticulous Japanese artists knew not to seek perfectionism, perhaps it’s time the rest of us gave up on it too.
TODAY’s HOW TO
Perfectionism sounds great but it’s simply not good for us. So I switched my outlook from perfection to excellence. Sounds simple enough, but the doing is harder than it sounds. The need for perfection still creeps in. It’s a life-long habit; hard to break. But by taking a moment and realizing that excellence is all I’m achieving, there are ample times when you can stop and say, “THAT’s good enough”! And good enough it is. And sometimes, excellence is more than you need. Something far less is GOOD ENOUGH. So I give myself lots of breaks these days. Good enough is good enough and I stop. It’s amazing how much more time I have to do things I love to do by just stopping at good enough.