Wednesday
Mar062013

Good enough is perfect

Perfectionism in and of itself isn't bad, but it can be overrated at times. There's a big difference between being a high achiever, and being a perfectionist. The former makes you strive for perfection, while the latter makes it impossible for you to participate in anything unless everything about the situation is perfect according to your standards. The former gets your tasks finished, allowing you to move on to the next task, while the latter gets you sometimes to the point of paralysis that nothing gets done at all. We sometimes mistake successful people as being perfectionists, and so some of us channel that idea that perfectionism is a trait to embody. But when you look closely, the people who are successful are not those who were always successful since the beginning, but those who kept rising from the ashes every time they failed. These successful individuals have managed to evolve and improve themselves over time. To a perfectionist, failure is not an option, and so this debilitating fear of failure can prevent them from getting anything done in the first place, sometimes even in the simplest of tasks. They refuse to go and have a good time at the party because they're not wearing their perfect dress. They give up on a chance to be in a wonderful and fulfilling relationship because they'd rather wait for the "perfect" one. They're ready to start their business, but they can't even build their website yet because they're still looking for the perfect web designer, even though they've been searching for three years.

In contrast, to a high achiever, the website will get put up as soon as possible, and then tweaked and improved over time. It's not going to be perfect at first, but it'll be close. The high achiever knows that although she may not have the perfect dress to the party, she'll still have an absolute blast. The high achiever is already halfway through his weight-loss program, while the perfectionist is still stuck at finding the perfect gym, and finding the perfect workout clothes.

I'm not advocating that you should lower your standards, but you should acknowledge if what you're putting yourself through is putting you at a disadvantage. If people are passing you by, you should look at the lane you're in to see if it's the most efficient for you. If your peers all have wonderful jobs they've grown to love, maybe you should re-think what you're still doing in school, and realize that jumping from one major to another, trying to find the perfect degree, is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. We've all had writer's block at some point, and that in itself is actually a great example of perfectionism being counterproductive. To a high achiever, they'll do their best to be successful, but when they hit little bumps along the way, they won't get fazed. They'll only move up and onward. The perfectionist will be stuck at the first hump, belittling herself for making the tiniest mistake. She won't allow herself to move on from this mistake, and at this point, she's already given up, even though she's only at the phase of trying to figure out the name of her start-up company.

I used to be a perfectionist myself, and a lot of that came from my cultural background growing up in a strict Asian family of overachievers. When I proudly announced to my mom that I was graduating valedictorian in high school and I won all these special awards, her first response was, "well, why didn't you get that particular award?" She was referring to an award that I didn't get. I learned from a young age that instead of being proud of what I've achieved, I should question myself on why I didn't get what I didn't get. Anything short of perfect wasn't good enough. My constant need for validation and victories triggered my perfectionistic outlook. Over time and through many years, I was lucky enough to have used this perfectionism as fuel in making leaps and bounds in my traveling and careers, but lately as an adult and especially with regards to my relationships, it has alienated me from a lot of what otherwise would have been great opportunities. As soon as I recognized that my perfectionism was turning into the maladaptive kind, I knew it was time for a change. And so that subplot began in my life.

 

 

Saturday
Dec152012

Start on your life goals today (part two)

See part one here.

Do you ever ask yourself why you're so good at finishing projects at work, and yet personal projects that involve your life goals just take the back burner? Maybe you need to take charge as a boss in your own life to get things accomplished.

Did you parents reward you with money when you finished your chores, and you relished getting stars from your teacher when you were in school? Maybe you need to setup an incentive and reward system to motivate yourself.

Do you love shopping but hate going to the gym? Consider only shopping for clothes that you want to fit into, and that'll get you in gear to go to the gym more often.

Above are just examples of how you can re-frame your mind into getting personal goals moving along. Keeping the status quo is always the easier route, but to make improvements in your life, that always involves movement, flow, and that dreaded "c" word: change. Luckily for you, it doesn't take a whole lot to start the ball rolling. All it takes is a little push. There is a lot of truth to the phrase, "baby steps." Here's an example:

You've been tasked on planning next summer's big family vacation. Looking at that alone, it can be such a daunting project. Actually, it is a daunting project. But before we get carried away on "what" needs to get done, let's start with the "why." Defining your objectives will give you direction and purpose. So why are you doing this? You can list several reasons like, spending time with the kids, making memories, taking time off from your hectic work life, or reconnecting with your spouse. These are great reasons to keep you going when you've hit a wall (or the dreaded plateau). Identifying your "why" reels in the project into something that's personal to you. That connection is necessary for your motivation and momentum.

After you've identified your objectives, start writing out individual tasks, and as you've broken down the seemingly-enormous project into bite-sized pieces, it'll start to look easier and doable. Maybe your individual tasks entail checking how many hours of vacation time you have, or checking airfare prices online, or something as simple as asking the kids where they want to go next summer. These are the individual tasks that can get easily done, and the big scary picture of orchestrating a whole family's summer vacation will start to look more exciting, especially when you occasionally remind yourself why you're doing this in the first place: making memories, spending time with the kids, and somewhere along the way, to also reconnect with yourself.

Thursday
Dec132012

Reaching my world's end

Earlier this week, I drove up to Santa Monica to see and experience the coast again. As I was sitting there, it occurred to me that even though this looks like the end of my world, there is something beyond the horizon that still exists despite being invisible. The world and its possibilities are really bigger than what we think and what we see.

 

Tuesday
Nov272012

Start on your life goals today (part one)

Do these sound familiar? "I'm too busy today. There's always tomorrow." Or, "I want to enjoy this weekend, so I'll start my diet on Monday."

Welcome to the club.

There is nothing inherently wrong with deferring things for another day. We all do that. But when you keep putting things off that bring you closer to realizing your dreams, you're only losing touch with yourself. The time to start working on your life goals is today.

So buy that guitar so you can start learning how to play it. Actually do your 15-minute morning walks so you can do the half marathon by next summer. Fill out and submit that passport application so you can travel internationally next year. Although we can be our worst critics, I prefer to think that we can also be our own greatest cheerleaders in life. When that voice of doubt starts getting louder in your head, just assure yourself that you deserve this. Take a break, visualize, and start feeling inside how good this will be for you. When you look back at your life, I hope that you find lots of fond memories, and that you can give yourself a pat on the back because you chose to act on your dreams sooner. We all deserve a chance to be happy. The question is: will you take that chance?

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
H. Jackson Brown, Jr., "P.S. I Love You"

 

Friday
Nov092012

When to say "no" in your personal life

Coming off the heels from the post below, here's my follow-up on how to say "no" when it comes to your personal life. You may be blessed with clearly defined start and end times to your work day, but your personal life can be an entirely different animal because without control, an overbooked and unruly schedule in your personal life has the capacity to consume your weekends, sleeping hours, even your quality time with your family, and let's not forget, your sanity, or at least what's left of it.

(1) Balance. If you met with your college buddies last weekend, make time for your family this coming weekend. If your kid's soccer practice is going to consume your Saturday, maybe you can skip the lively football game this Sunday with your friends, and instead, watch a movie with your significant other for a quiet Sunday night at the theaters. If you're coming back from vacation on Saturday, don't schedule anything for Sunday, so you'll have time to unpack and unwind before going back to work on Monday. (Don't even tell anyone you're coming back to town on Saturday, because then people will want to get together on Sunday to hear all about your trip.)

(2) Prioritize your family. Know that your family should be high up on your list. Your family needs you, so make time for them. 

(3) Prioritize yourself. When things get busy, the first sacrifices that are made are usually with yourself. Maybe you'll just skip the gym to go to brunch instead, or forego your weekly manicure, just so you can have happy hour with your coworkers. Don't make a habit out of this. Unless your friend whom you haven't seen for five years is driving through town, you shouldn't have to skip your usual Saturday morning yoga class.

(4) Buffer times and quiet times. Give yourself some time in between commitments if they happen consecutively. Allow for time to linger and socialize at parties. You can't call it a social life unless you actually socialize. If you go from an afternoon barbecue with your neighbors straight into dinner out with family in the evening, allow for a quick nap and a shower before heading out to town. At home, make appointments with yourself to actually have and enjoy quiet times, and honor these times. If you like sleeping in on the weekends and you plan an early morning run on Saturday with your gym buddy, then don't schedule anything for Sunday morning so you can actually sleep in then. 

(5) Know your limitations. I know I can't stay up too late on Friday and Saturday nights anymore, so I don't schedule back-to-back events for both Friday and Saturday nights. I'm too old for that. I also know I can't go by with just 5 hours of sleep, so if I stay up late one night, there better not be anything I need to get to the next day until after 1:00 p.m.

(6) Have an exit strategy. Before you even head to a party with your better half, agree on what would be a reasonable time for both of you to leave from the party. This takes the guesswork out because it'll be more difficult to decide on what time to leave after you've had drinks. If you both decide to leave early from a party, have a good reason why you're doing so, in case the host gets surprised on why you're leaving so early. You don't want to be in an awkward position wherein you have no good reason why you're leaving an hour after you've arrived. "We only have the babysitter for a couple of hours," sounds better than, "we have another party to go to." I'm not saying you have to lie, but just prepare a better response in case your real reason won't sound so good. If all else fails, use the "French leave." This means just quietly leave without saying goodbye to the host. Please send a thank-you note afterwards though to let them know you enjoyed your time, and apologize for not being able to personally say goodbye.

(7) When you actually have to decline an invitation, offer other alternatives or suggestions to go along with your excuse. "I can't make it to this Sunday's pool party, but you can borrow our ice chests if you need more of those." "I'd love to catch that movie with you guys this weekend, but since I'll be out of town, how about I host the next movie night at my house?" "Because we won't be able to stay for the actual party, how about we come earlier and help you setup?"

(8) As soon as you know you're not able to make it to an event to which you were invited, send your regrets right away. Don't wait until the last minute to let the host know that you're not able to make it. This also works the other way if you'll be able to make it. For anyone who's been a host, you know the importance of an accurate headcount.

(9) Don't feel guilty for saying no. Ever. Even when they try to make you feel bad to not being able to make it. Stick to your reasons, and know that in the end, you'll be happier you didn't go. There's always the next time. If you force yourself into going, it'll be obvious you're a party pooper. If you repeatedly allow yourself to be guilted into saying yes to invitations, you'll only feel resentful in the end. 

Make sure you have a grasp on your schedule, otherwise, your schedule will run your life. If you work it right, you may just have enough reasons to be thankful when Friday rolls around.