Is your schedule demanding perfection from others?

I am a recovering perfectionist. I’ve always had high standards of myself, but I’ve never demanded perfection from others. In fact, even when I’ve been hard on myself, I’ve still been encouraging others to be kinder on themselves. 

I’m too ‘nice’ to be a perfectionist when it comes to other people… or so I thought.

Until this week, when I found myself printing at midnight, after a 2 hour drive back from Leeds, when I should have been getting some sleep before my workshop the next morning.

I thought I had it all worked out. I knew it was going to be a bit of a 3 day marathon. I’d scoped ahead, taken a deep breath and gotten everything prepared and lined up in advance. For once, I wasn’t the one leaving it to the last minute.

This time it was someone else. Someone else’s mistake and oversight that I had to sacrifice sleep to rectify.

Disaster was averted, and even though I had a terrible night’s sleep, the workshop went brilliantly.

But it did get me thinking. Yes it was someone else’s mistake. Yes they should have spotted it. Yes they could have given themselves more time (I know it’s also been a busy season for them). No, it wasn’t my job to make sure they did theirs. And yes, we will be having a conversation about it. (Thankfully, I knew better than to fire off an email when tired and very grumpy!)

I realised this:

When my schedule is so tight that there is no margin for error, then by default I am demanding perfection – not just from me – but from everyone around me.

Because I simply have no time to accommodate mistakes.

  • No time for the waiter who’s got my order wrong.
  • No time for the learner driver who’s stalled at the roundabout.
  • No time for the cashier who’s trying to get to grips with the till on their first day.
  • No time for my kids to have a meltdown at the door.
  • No time for my colleague to notice let alone recover from their mistake.

And here is my dilemma.

I know we are all human. I believe absolutely passionately in being human. Being superhuman is a lie that robs us of life and there is beauty in imperfection.

But to live this out in the day to day, I need to live in a way where I am not stretched to my limits. Where things don’t fall apart if someone drops the ball. Where I have margin: room to accommodate mistakes, hiccups and delays. And I need to do that, in order to be kind – not just to myself, but to others around me too.

As one of my favourite sayings go, “Always be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

And that is how I want to live. I want to be that person. The person who has time to stop and smile, and wait, rather than the person who rolls her eyes, freaks out and demands better service. The person who has time to have a constructive conversation, and give someone the chance to make amends and rebuild trust, rather than the person who resigns herself to resentfully doing everything herself.

I wonder, what would the world be like, if we all had more time for each other’s mistakes?

I’d love to hear your take on this. Go ahead and speak your mind in the comments below.

  • Wendy V

    Great post, Grace, from one who frequently finds herself printing things out at 2am… Margin is a luxury I don’t have. I tell myself that I will look back fondly on these ‘intense’ years! As ever, I like your take on things. Meanwhile, I try to remember to treat myself as kindly as I would like to treat anyone else. Apart from anything else, it makes life flow more easily, with less friction!

    • Glad to have reminded you to be kind to yourself Wendy! Enjoy the flow.

  • Shelly

    Great point…but I struggle with the reality of it because I must also suffer from the scarcity mentality, there is never enough. Without enough time, money, energy I keep trying to get more and feel the need to be constantly productive. It takes time, money and energy to have margin- it feels wasteful.
    There is a vicious circle that I recognize but can’t seem to stop.

    • “It feels wasteful” – that’s the key thing that keeps the cycle perpetuating. It feels wasteful to have margin, therefore I won’t. I’ll keep telling myself I don’t have enough time… but that steals more time, and so that perpetuates the perspective and reality of ‘not enough’. Reversing the cycle starts with acknowledging that there’s a difference between how it feels and what it actually is. Then commit to taking action and let your feelings catch up with you. You could start with “even if it feels wasteful, I’m going to give myself ___ today – because this will help me to…” You might find this article helpful too: http://productivemag.com/21/is-guilt-stealing-your-time

  • Catherine Poole

    This resonates with me because I always (I think!) have things timed down to the last minute, then invariably the proverbial will hit the fan and something will crop up! It’s usually something like younger child throwing a wobbly when the school bus is about to come any second now and I had it all timed perfectly…or so I thought!

    • I know exactly what you mean Catherine! That’s my natural tendency too, but I’ve come to recognise that spare capacity is powerful!

  • Another insightful blog post Grace – thanks for sharing!

    I’ve worked very hard to introduce “margin” into my life. The benefits are clear! With margin, you find you have more patience and are more tolerant of the “unexpected” issues that, in reality, we can expect to experience. When you don’t try to cram something in to every last minute of the day, you also find yourself able to take advantage of opportunities more freely.

    It’s a work in progress for me, but your blog is a useful reminder of why I should slow down yet achieve more.

    • Thanks Richard, for your insightful comment! It is true, how the benefits are clear – especially after you’ve implemented them. Some of life’s best moments are complete surprises 🙂

  • Peter Anderton

    Spot on! This is me down to a tee – thanks Grace!

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