Is perfect the enemy of progress?

It's a progress not a perfect for executive womem with Amanda Blesing Executive Coach.jpg


"If you can't do something properly, then don't do it at all."

This principle ruled my life for years.

  •  If I couldn't do a 90 minute workout at the gym, it wasn't worth going.

  •  If I wouldn't easily pass the exam near the top of the class, I couldn't be bothered participating.

  • If I didn't meet all the criteria, then I wouldn't throw my hat in the ring.

  •  If I wouldn't likely win a prize, it wasn't worth doing at all.

It’s not about immediate perfection. It’s about learning something over time: confronting a challenge and making progress.
— Carol S. Dweck

It was exhausting. All the mental anguish involved in pre-emptively measuring, judging and comparing ensured that I rarely got out of my comfort zone but was incredibly envious of those who did.

It was also incredibly limiting.

There was not a lot of flying by the seat of my pants, having a crack at things, or colouring outside the lines.  Which left me not trying, not giving thing a shot and ..... and not going anywhere anytime soon.


Research tells me that I'm not alone; that women in the corporate world are more likely to be perfectionists and more self-critical than their male counterparts, holding themselves back from opportunities until they’re sure they can predict the outcome.  

Where an attitude of taking advantage of opportunities that come your way (whether you can easily predict the outcome or not) is the smarter play, we're still focused on doing things really, really well.

Yes, there are still double standards for women in the workplace with the burden of over proof. There are expectations of us needing to jump through extra hoops and do things better, to prove our worth over again. Then again, the perfectionist also has that additional double standard for themselves - over proving, over polishing, over and over again.

High standards are one thing, but perfectionism definitely becomes a double edged sword.


Tim Ferriss, in his book Four Hour Body, writes about how people who measure and track their weight regularly, get far better weight loss results over time, than those who don't. It's as though their motivation is higher and they are more resilient because they had more data, and subsequently understood how to navigate the peaks and troughs along the way towards their long term weight loss goal.

There was even a case study about a guy who lost a significant amount of weight, not by (intentionally) changing his diet or exercise regime, but by simply weighing, measuring and keeping track.  (Go figure!)

While I recently heard a story about a group of male colleagues who tracked the progress of their male MBA cohort (yes, they ran Excel spreadsheets), so they could see how they were measuring up against each other, I suspect this is unusual, and more about competition than progress.  

I don't think many of us track and measure progress in our daily lives, and certainly we don't do it much with our career.  We tend to celebrate the big wins, the rockstar moments, but rarely the smaller milestones along the way.


So what would happen if we tracked progress, not perfect?  What would happen if we still kept our eye on the prize, but tracked and rewarded in smaller increments along the way?

This month as a trial, I've implemented a new initiative for my clients. No more Friday Achievement Formula for us (even though I love it). Instead I'm replacing it with the Friday Progress Report. 

Every Friday for the next month, list five things, where you've seen progress, where the dial has shifted and you've moved closer to your end goal, where you've learned something new that will help you achieve your end goal, or where you've improved.

This will require measuring, strategy and prioritisation. It will also require keeping a journal, a spreadsheet or a whiteboard visual reminder.

There is something very rewarding about ticking off a checklist. There is something even more rewarding and motivating when you systematically and regularly track your progress towards your big goals.

Why? When a recovering perfectionist is only focused on the big goals, big achievements, big end results all the time, we run the risk of losing sight of how far we have come then becoming disheartened or disengaged.

Key to success?

  • Regular checking in on your goal and tracking towards it

  • Celebrating progress along the way  

  • Reward yourself for trying new things even if they don't return much initially

  • Acknowledging failure or mis-steps as a learning opportunities.

 It's not failure, it's data" ~ Dorie Clark


There is a saying in yoga - it's a practice not a perfect.  This reminds yogis to stop and smell the roses, that the yoga class is about the journey, not the destination and that while the peak poses are fun, that's not the why we do yoga. Instead, yoga asana is about what you learn about yourself along the way to achieving a peak pose.  Then what you do with that insight, how you course correct, adapt and incorporate new things, is what will ultimately help you achieve the peak pose much more easily.

The same goes for our careers and leadership.  It's what you learn along the way that will help you not just win in the career game, but to lead and succeed as well.

YOUR THOUGHTS? Do you regularly track progress? Or do you track only the big wins? What works for you and why? Drop me a note and let me know.

#womenofimpact #LookOutCSuiteHereSheComes #perfectionism

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Over the years I’ve written a lot about perfectionism – read more >>

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