Give Yourself a Break

Jane Herman

March 16, 2010

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Let me warn you right now that some of you may not like this article �" because what I am about to say may run counter to everything you have heard, or believe, is the secret to success and happiness.

This article is meant for those of you who are exhausted from all of the pushing, striving, goal setting, and focusing you force yourself to do each day in search of self improvement and perfection.

It is a glimpse into an alternative perspective that exposes the dark side of trying too hard, and provides some guideposts onto a path towards greater peace and less pressure.

The Pervasive Desire for Constant Improvement and Perfection

Are you caught up in the tsunami of self improvement? Do you silently or openly believe the following?
  • I need to constantly strive to be “better”
  • I need to constantly improve myself
  • I need to be perfect
  • I have to be not only good, but great!
  • I must make the right choices, strive, achieve, progress, set goals, make and follow a plan, etc...
These beliefs have their positive side �" they can keep you motivated and focused on designing and creating a better future for yourself. But there is also a negative side to the constant drive for improvement and striving for perfection. Have you ever asked yourself, “How is this affecting my health, my relationships, my sense of self worth, or my sense of well being?”

The Dark Side of the Drive for Self Improvement and Perfection

The constant pursuit of improvement and perfection can lead to the following:

Comparisons With Others - If we are trying to get better at something it makes sense that we need to measure our progress �" and so comparison with others becomes a natural metric. Unfortunately, all too often when we look to compare ourselves with others we judge ourselves to be lacking, for example: “I don’t have enough smarts, good looks, money, etc.”

Endless Searching - for that perfect partner, perfect job, hair, clothes, kids, car, vacation home…

Constant Striving �" to be the perfect partner, wife, friend, boss, or employee or to master perfect communication, the perfect golf game, etc.

No Sense of Satisfaction �" ever.

Fear Of Making Mistakes or Looking Bad In The Eyes of Others �" yet mistakes are a natural part of learning �" so we constrain our learning experiences for fear of appearing inexperienced or incompetent.

Focus Riveted On The Future �" since the fulfillment of the goals we pursue usually resides in some distant future we are hoping and striving for.

We find our goal-oriented/future-orientated/self-improvement and perfection- oriented selves encouraged by motivational quotes (such as the one by Hannah Moore) that tell us: “Obstacles are those frightful things we see when we take our eyes off the goal.” But from a different perspective, what we actually see (and experience) when we take our eyes off our future-oriented goals is not obstacles, but rather the joys and richness of the present.

Signposts to a Different Path

I can show you literally thousands of motivational quotes that tout the advantages of setting goals, staying focused, and striving for continuous improvement. There are far fewer that offer solace to those who are tired of the constant drive to perfection and who are looking for a way to lesson the pressure so that they can take a full breath. Here are four of the best I have found:

1. “We all are doing the best we can at any given time.” �" Thomas Leonard (often called the father of Coaching).

This statement is not meant to say that what we do is always right or that we could not do better. It is not a license to excuse outrageous behavior. Rather it is meant to convey a simple truth that can bring peace from constant self-judgment and from overly harsh judgment of others �" “your best” changes from moment to moment and will be different depending on a multitude of factors including the state of your information or knowledge of others or of a situation, your state of self awareness, your state of health, cultural norms, etc.

Sometimes is helps to just acknowledge about a situation, “I am doing the best I can” or, “I did the best I could.” Sometimes it can heal a relationship to realize, “He/she is doing the best they can” or, “He/she did the best they could.”

2. “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (poet).

3. “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?” �" Tao Te Ching

Remember, striving is not the only way to uncover the right decision or path.

4. “There is really nothing you have to accomplish in this lifetime, nothing �" really.” - Thomas Leonard.

The Bottom Line

Some of you may have a negative gut reaction to one or all of the above four quotes �" they may seem absurd, counterintuitive, counterproductive, even misguided. But to others they may offer a lifeline �" a different way of thinking that opens up the possibility that pressure and striving are not absolutely mandatory in life and that it is alright to give yourself a break and to step off the treadmill of constant striving, even if just for one precious, quiet, moment.

Jane Herman is the Personal and Business Success Coach who helps managers, executives, and individuals take control of their lives and reinvent themselves, their careers, or their businesses. To receive a complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Jane, and/or sign up for Jane's free Success Tools electronic newsletter, log onto or email her at [email protected].

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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