When it comes to work performance, commitments or productivity, the expectations we set for ourselves can be so high that they become a source of stress in their own right. If you want to make time for new things in your life or feel overwhelmed, it can be helpful to take a closer look at those expectations and their consequences, particularly if the standards you are trying to live up to don’t seem to apply to anyone else.
It is part of adult life to wear different hats and balance responsibilities, but everyone can choose how much energy to invest in them. Trying to be perfect in every role in life is not only exhausting, but also wastes precious time. Here are some thoughts on letting go of self-expectations at the superman or superwoman level that may be standing in your own way:
Ditch your ideas of “perfect”: Not every obligation is created equal. It’s OK to strive for high quality, but perfectionism can introduce levels of stress that are completely unnecessary. Will it matter twenty years from now whether you had perfect hair or whether your home was spotless? Or will you wish you had followed your dream of building a business or creating your own brand? Marie Kondo has famously claimed that we should only keep possessions that give us joy. The same lens can provide a helpful perspective when it comes to the logic of “should”. (Organize holiday party! Lose twenty pounds! Bring the kids to Klingon lessons!). The truth is, there is little reason to please people you don’t respect or to conform to meaningless standards of appearance or social standing.
Focus on the essential:
Concentrating your efforts on inconsequential and trivial matters takes time away from “big ticket” goals. The 80/20 rule provides useful guidance when it comes to choosing how to invest your energy and when to work under “super power”:
“Simply put, the 80/20 rule states that the relationship between input and output is rarely, if ever, balanced. When applied to work, it means that approximately 20 percent of your efforts produce 80 percent of the results. Learning to recognize and then focus on that 20 percent is the key to making the most effective use of your time,” Pam Vaccaro has written.
Pick one or two areas where high standards make sense and can generate value (and income!) for you. The remaining aspects of work and life can be addressed with “human” standards, which will be just fine.
Apply expectations evenly: Expecting more of yourself than of others leads to an unequally distributed workload and can turn you into a victim of your own standards. By accepting that others are human, you allow them–but not yourself–to get tired, make mistakes, or occasionally slack off. If other people get the sense that their participation is not needed or worse, that their work doesn’t measure up to your expectations, they will contribute even less. That creates a vicious cycle in which you inadvertently pile even greater responsibility onto yourself and need even more super-energy to pull it all off. To stop feeling harried, be sure to give your partner or other team members a fair share of the workload and accept the results.
“We don’t have time for perfect,” wrote Elizabeth Gilbert in the introduction for her book “Big Magic” in 2015, and quoted another writer, Rebecca Solnit: “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good, it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”
So leave your cape at home. Or donate it if it’s no longer giving you joy. Use your time to do what’s realistic, possible, and above all, fun. Here’s to you.