As far back as I can remember I used to be a perfectionist overachiever, and this was greatly due to the meaning I had derived from my life experiences growing up. I was surrounded by people who, with the best of intentions, expected the best from me. They had high hopes for me, and they wanted me to rise above average, to be exceptional.
It wasn’t long before I learned what I deem to be one of my most important life lessons. I found out that when I set off for being exceptional, always striving to be the best, always reaching for first place, always pushing myself to do more, more, more, I found it more and more difficult to feel happy or even content about my current and past accomplishments; in fact, I could not even bring myself to acknowledge them, let alone enjoy them.
Whether they vocalized it or not, the expectations of those around me always rose above the results I produced. Whenever I showed them I could do more, they expected more. The more I showed them I could do, the more they expected of me. And if I ever I fell short of performing at my newly set standard for whatever reason (maybe I was just having a “bad” day?) the spectators around me cut me no slack. They frowned and showed signs of disappointment, which in turn caused me to feel disappointed in myself.
As a result of this, my own expectations on myself rose high above my accomplishments; even the times when I excelled at something, I always told myself, “You could have done better. You must do better next time.” This caused me a tremendous amount of pressure and anxiety, not to mention feelings of never being “good enough” or “special enough.” Needless to say, I was unable to find satisfaction in my accomplishments; they felt like empty victories to me. I was literally unable to be pleased with myself. How sad it was to go through life feeling like no matter what I did, I was not good enough even in my own eyes.
In his book “Supercoach” Michael Neill shares with us the concept of going for “having an average day” as a way for being exceptional. When I first read this I was skeptical because I thought, “This goes against the conventional belief of making every day exceptional!” And indeed it does. At first glance it may seem like we’re being encourage for settling for an average life and being conformists or having a mediocre attitude. But as Michael explains,
The paradoxical promise of the “average day” philosophy [is that] the cumulative effect of a series of average days spent doing an average amount of what loves and wants to do is actually quite extraordinary
It took me a bit to digest this concept but the more I thought about it the more sense it made to me. I realized then that whenever I wanted to accomplish something or do something I wanted to do, my perfectionist overachieving attitude kicked in and suddenly the task seemed too daunting or complicated. I could anticipate my own expectations about it and felt anxious rather than motivated. As a result, I tended to put it off! “If I’m going to do it, it has to be perfect” – I thought – “otherwise I am not going to do it.” And then I felt burnt out before I even started.
Well you can imagine how many things got put off or postponed as a result, from making sure I spent quality time with my kids, to working on the next chapter in a book I was writing. I knew I wanted to spend quality time with my kids every day, but I always believed that it had to be this whole ordeal that would take at least a couple of hours each day in order for it to be done right. In the case of my book, I often focused on the fact that I needed to do additional research and get all the words and all the paragraphs perfect, which again would take a long time to do.
But after reading Michael’s tip I saw how my perfectionist-going-for-exceptional attitude was actually working against me and holding me back. So I decided to implement his suggestion and shoot for having average days instead. This simply meant that there was no more pressure to get it perfect. The goal was just to get it done. So I made it a point to spend at least some quality time with my kids on a daily basis. That time was sometimes spent playing a few rounds of go-fish, or talking to them while I was cooking dinner (yes, I’m a dad who loves cooking for his kids), or sitting with them on the couch with my arms around their shoulders asking them about their day.
Was it ideal? Far from it. But I realized that if I waited for the “ideal” I would rarely (if ever) get to spend any time with my kids! At least now, I got to spend some real quality time with them, talking to them about their needs and their dreams, and really giving them my attention. If during the time we spent together I was able to make even the tiniest bit of difference, the impact this would have over the course of their lives would be far from average!
So now, whenever I find myself putting off something I want to do or postponing it until the stars and planets align and everything is perfect, I apply Michael’s tip and get right to it. I’m finding that as a result of that I am able to accomplish more, and get more satisfaction out of my accomplishments. My wife and I have also made it a point to convey this attitude to our kids. They know that we are effort-oriented rather than results-oriented, and that we don’t expect straight A’s in their report cards. We’re making it a point to take the pressure of perfection off of their shoulders and encourage them to just give things their best shot. We’re reminding them constantly that if they’re not pleased with the results, they can always try again. But at this point it becomes a choice rather than an expectation, and this allows our creativity and our energy to flow freely and shine.
Remember the fable of the (average) tortoise and the (overachieving) hare, and the moral of the story? “Slow and steady wins the race!” It really is true!
What do you think of this “going for an average day” tip? Drop me a line in the comment box below,
I’d love to hear from you!