June 28, 2010

Seeking Progress, Not Perfection


El Tour de Tucson - 88 miles

Progress, not Perfection. Cycleguy coined this term recently.  He’s shared it with me.  He knows that I’m an uber Type-A and have difficulties sometimes seeing the forest for the trees.  And he, along with many others, know that my perfectionist tendencies often create HUGE self-imposed obstacles.

Progress, not Perfection. It should become my new mantra.  It should be emblazoned on the inside of my eyelids so when I sleep the words are visible to my brain.  Progress, not Perfection.

But how does a perfectionist come to terms with herself and instead of hamstringing herself every day, beating herself up and feeling like a failure?  I’m not a ‘strive for mediocrity’ kind of gal.  I just can’t see doing something if I can’t do it PERFECTLY.  And so I have made myself anxious about life because I can’t seem to find perfection in everything I do.

And here’s the thing.  I don’t expect perfection from other people.  I’m the first to lend a supportive comment, cheer the great effort and say ‘maybe next time.’  I don’t fault my friends or acquaintances.  I don’t curse others if they miss a deadline or need to ask for help or more time or even just say it’s not possible right now.  I don’t unfriend, unfollow, or unlike someone if they can’t DO IT ALL.  No, I don’t.  Because that’s wrong.  They’re human and humans are not perfect.  Note to self:  you’re human too.

So why do I expect more from myself?  Why do we all expect more from ourselves?  Is it because we were raised this way?  To be the perfect child.  To get straight As.  To be the captain of the squad, get in to the right school, land the choice job.  It’s all of these things.   And the cop out is that it’s a disease.  OCD is a medical condition.  Perfectionism is an unrealistic view.

I challenge myself to seek Progress, not Perfection.  I know how amazing I can feel when achieving something based on progress, not perfection.  A few years ago I ventured out on an exercise program to road bike.  I built up my endurance, my stamina, my drive.  And while I’m embarrassed to say it, there were quite a few times when I forgot to clip out at a stop light and would fall over.  But I knew I couldn’t just stay there on the ground.  Regardless of why I didn’t remember, I had to get up and keep going.  Progress, not Perfection.

When the day came for me to clip in and take those first revolutions on the pedals with the end goal of completing the Palm Springs Century (no photos available b/c, well, keep reading) I knew that I wouldn’t be first.  As a matter of fact, I’d be no where in the pack.  I set out to ride 100 miles.  Not for any other reason than to prove to myself that I could do it.  Ok, I did it for charity too and raised money.

If you’ve never sat on a bike and pedaled for 100 miles, it’s not easy. Lance Armstrong can probably ride 100 miles faster than I can type this blog post.  But me, well, had I not missed a turn I would have finished in just under 10 hours.  Yep, 10 hours on a bike (minus the few refueling stops).  It was not about perfection.  Progress. Not Perfection. The only thing that kept me going was that I was making progress.  As I passed new landmarks, saw mile markers, stopped to refill my water bottles I was encouraged.  I was making progress.  With each revolution of my tires I was closer to the finish line.

By time I hit the finish line everyone had packed up, it was pitch dark and there were no cheers from the crowd or photo ops or anything like that.  No medal or t-shirt.  Just CycleGuy waiting for me.  Far from perfection!  And while I was so excited I finished — 113 miles in all — I see myself as having failed.  I couldn’t even get done before they packed up and left.  I was left alone on the course.  I berated myself because I couldn’t even finish in time to get a free t-shirt.  All of these thoughts rise to the top, crushing down the most important one — that I rode 113 miles on a bike, without anyone else helping me.  I rode 113 miles on a bike.  And I was conflicted – overjoyed yet disappointed.

Everyday I beat myself up (often multiple times) for not doing something right. The measurement of what is right is arbitrarily set in my mind.  Doesn’t matter what anyone else says. My idea of right is usually about 10 times more stringent than anyone else. It’s unrealistic. It’s often random and unreasonable. But all I see is the failure. Never the progress.

I can’t lie and say my perfectionist tendencies are some horrible scourge. They’ve served me well many times. But, in general, they impede me from having a life that I envision.  Progress, Not Perfection.

So what am I going to do about this problem? After I analyze it six ways of Sunday, create a spreadsheet, graph it, find the mean the mode and the median, blog it, read comments, pound my head against the wall because someone found a typo or some gramatical error, flog myself for not having done this post earlier and staying up late and then berate myself for talking about my failures I’ll hope to get over it and begin to see that my life is about progress. Each day I’m given the gift of a new period of time to do my best. I’m never asked to make each day perfect. So if no one is asking that of me, then why on Earth am I asking that of myself?

Progress, Not Perfection.

If you’ve mastered this philosophy, I’d love to hear how so I can begin to work on it.  If you are more like me and struggle with the negative aspects of being a perfectionist please share with me if you are trying to modify your self-expectations.

This post is linked up with Mingle Monday.

Our Homeschool Home



Amy @ Dealusional June 28, 2010 at 6:13 am

I could’ve written that post. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a perfectionist, and just a teeny weeny bit hard on myself, too. It’s been a challenge for me to homeschool because I am so rigid and have to try to find flexibility when teaching my child. And my biggest fear is that my child will get this Type-A, anal-retentive gene that I seem to possess. Parenting sure has been a lesson in slowing down a bit, but I still struggle with just taking each day for what it is and not feeling like I have to “accomplish” something or get on to the next day so I can achieve something then.

Sara June 28, 2010 at 10:16 am


Thank you for stopping by and leaving such an honest comment. I, too, worry that I’ll pass along this sometimes debilitating trait of perfectionism. I appreciate you sharing your struggle.


Cycleguy June 28, 2010 at 9:28 am

There are only two directions for life to go….Growth or Death, there is nothing in-between. With progress comes growth!

You did awesome! You have never trained for an endurance event EVER!!! I remember that night when you came in from riding a bike 113 miles, I was just plain proud and would not let you feel bad and I still won’t. Do not mistake not attaining a goal as failure you did something that you never would have believed you could have done. Always remember, there is a difference between settling and achieving! You don’t settle, and you are always growing! XXOO

Sara June 28, 2010 at 10:17 am


Thank you for commenting. I love you!

Christine June 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm

What a great post – congratulations on such an accomplishment, not to mention the good you did along the way!! I think you echo the feeling of a lot of us Type A types who get freaked out because our work or relationship or house isn’t exactly as we think it ‘should’ be.

Sara June 28, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Hello Christine,

Thank you for your lovely comment and for taking time to read my blog. I am sure I can ‘should of’ myself into the crazy house if I let the Type-A get out of control. Sometimes I just throw caution to the wind and let things progress organically. It’s exceptionally difficult not to rush in and ‘fix it’. But I know I need to work on letting go of some of the perfectionism.

Again, thank you for visiting!

Shifra June 28, 2010 at 8:03 pm

So proud of you, your progress… and well, I think you are as close to perfect as it gets! I love all of you – the things you think are your failures, the type A lunacy, and the never-ending desire for perfection!

I am so far from perfect I don’t even worry about it! But I did a perfect job picking you as my friend!!!!!

Sara June 28, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Hi Shifra,

Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Thanks for loving me as I am and not trying to make me change. But, also thank you for the encouragement as I strive to seek progress and not slow myself down with perfection.


Jen Knox June 29, 2010 at 5:22 am

Wow, it’s like you read my mind. I’m exactly the same way. I’m also another type of perfectionist that would look at your bike race and probably not even do it because I would “anticipate” it not being perfect, so why bother. So you’re head and shoulders more together than I am because you DID IT! That’s awesome!

I’d write your mantra, “Progress Not Perfection” on a notecard and put it near my workspace, but I’d need to find the right color notecard, a “good” pen, and then I’d need to go through six drafts because my handwriting was off on the first five….yeah, I get it! 😉

Guess I’ll just have to visit your site more often as a reminder! Fantastic post!

Sara June 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

Welcome, Jen!

Thank you for visiting my blog and sharing your insight in such an open and real comment. And thank you for the cheering about my bike race. Progress Not Perfection is a pretty good mantra huh? And I totally hear you on the whole writing it down part. I’ve often thought that being a perfectionist in some ways is really a disability. I know for me sometimes it is.

Hope you come visit again!


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