The Perfect and the Good
Avoid letting the search for perfection stop forward progress
I have a friend who's a complete perfectionist. Their emails are flawless. Their house is immaculate. Even their handwriting is something to be envied. They are always put together; never once have I seen them in a wrinkled shirt or with messy hair. Even their kids had little matching hats to go with their matching outfits when they were little.
But it comes at a cost. My friend starts to stress out when things get messy or out of place. Things that are easy for others take longer for this person, and are harder to get done. They put a great deal of pressure on themselves to not just do things, but do them perfectly, and when something goes wrong—even a tiny mistake—they beat themselves up for it. This takes a major toll on them.
I have a “care less” rule. It's not that I don’t care; I just don’t allow myself to sweat the small stuff. The laundry gets done, the dishes get washed, but things around me are a bit cluttered and chaotic. I consider myself fortunate if my kids comb their hair and wear shoes without holes in them. (And yes, they sometimes go to school with mismatched socks.) The environment around me is far from perfect. It doesn't always run like a well-oiled machine. I could easily invest a lot of time and energy in trying to make it perfect, but over time, I've discovered something: it’s okay to allow the dishwasher to run when the dishes are slightly askew, or to not get upset when the car gets dinged. This “care less” mindset lowers my mental load and makes the daily realities of working and living much less stressful.
It can be easy to get caught up in trying to do everything perfectly, but the quest for perfection often has diminishing returns. By stepping away from "perfect" and thinking in terms of "good enough", you can lower your stress and focus your energy on what's most important.
Employing the 80/20 Rule
I live life by the 80/20 rule. The idea is that you will get 80 percent of the results with 20 percent of the effort, while the last 20 percent of the results will take 80 percent of your effort. The most important job that you can do is figuring out the right 20 percent in which to invest your time and energy.
Early in my career, I thought I had to do everything. I felt like I had to precisely manage every aspect of my team and my work to succeed at the level I wanted, which meant doing as much as humanly possible without ever letting up. I had many balls in the air, and I swore I would never let them fall. Needless to say, I struggled to balance so many things.
Then I became pregnant for the first time. During my first trimester, I was exhausted all the time. I started to develop sciatica, which required me to undergo physical therapy. Between that, my work, and the stress of preparing for a new baby, I struggled to stay on top of everything. I would set up meetings at eBay in the afternoon just so I had an excuse to go home and nap. I had to adjust my routine, and I was frustrated by what I perceived as a decrease in my productivity.
This struggle lasted throughout my pregnancy. One day, at the height of my stress and exhaustion, I asked my manager if she had noticed any drop in my effectiveness or efficiency lately. She told me she hadn’t. I asked my team the same thing, and they too said I seemed to be working at the same pace. That was when I told them I was pregnant. They were surprised; as far as they could tell, I was still just as effective as I had been before—and so were they.
It was then that I realized the importance of the 80/20 rule. My pregnancy had forced me to prioritize and focus on the important things, without trying to manage everything at once. I was working a great deal less, yet the team still functioned. Our products got shipped, and we were hitting our goals. What followed was another realization: that a lot of the effort I had been putting into my work, even before my pregnancy, hadn't been necessary to our team's success. I had been seeking perfection, and in doing so, I was putting my energy into the wrong things.
I had to relearn this lesson during each of my pregnancies, which were all physically difficult in their own ways. By my third, I had developed a painful condition called symphysis pubis dysfunction, which made it painful to walk. At one point, my doctor asked me if I wanted to go on full disability for the remainder of my pregnancy (about three months), because I could barely stand the excruciating pain that came with each step I took. This humbling experience was an acute reminder that not only was it not necessary to keep every single ball in the air, but that sometimes it's just not possible. The key wasn't to do everything, but to focus on the most important things—because in the end, those were the ones that really mattered.
Learning to let go at home
As a mother and a wife, I often felt a lot of pressure to make things perfect: wonderful homemade family dinners, a nice home full of nice things, an environment where everything was in its proper place. I wanted to be that mom who always had the beautiful Christmas tree and the perfect Easter baskets.