Perfectionism is a Dream-Killer

Ultrarunning mindset coach Susan Donnelly on why perfectionism kills your goals and dreams

For the past ten years, I’ve run an average of eight 100-mile races per year.

People look at that and the fact that I have a life outside running, and ask:

“How do you do that?”

From the questions that follow, a lot of people seem to assume I’m training and competing to perfection, all the time. You know, like in magazines and videos?

So I’m going to use this little story to bust a glamorized myth that might be keeping you stuck.

One of the reasons I can do that many races is because I choose to do them - perfect or not.

Yes, I often train and race hard, but hard is different than perfect.

When I say “perfect,” I’m not talking about holding yourself to a high standard. I’m talking about perfectionism.

Perfectionism is “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” A refusal. In other words, a way to justify not doing something. 

Perfectionism is an excuse. 

It's for people who are afraid to put themselves out there, get judged by others, and found lacking.

I get it, believe me. There are still places where it tries to creep in on me. It’s easy to look around at social media, magazines, films, and everyone else and conclude, “Everyone's got it nailed down, so I need to too.” It’s even easier in sports where your finish place is ranked by time against everyone else's, in black and white for the whole entire world to see and judge.

Which is why perfectionism can be especially paralyzing to runners. You can avoid being judged if you avoid going to races.

The obvious downside is you never go to the race, so you lose that chance to learn, improve, and build your confidence. Instead, you stay stuck in a safe but perpetual cycle of “fixin’ to” - continually preparing for the big dance but never actually going.

Which is how perfectionism ends up killing dreams and success in every part of life. It excuses you from taking action until things are “perfect,” and how often has that happened?

(Side note - it’s a huge time-suck too.)

If perfectionism is keeping you stuck, ask yourself two questions, 

“What is this costing me?”

“Would I rather (go to races, apply for that job, audition, ask for the date), or sit here and worry about what other people will think?

If you’d rather go to the race (or whatever), give yourself permission to do it imperfectly. I’m not saying you have to fail or half-ass it. I’m saying a high-quality, B+ effort is way better than sitting at home.

As nice as the idea of perfection seems, I’d far rather get out there and run the best I can - or want to - on race day because I love doing it, not watching it. That’s how I learn and improve. And I’m willing to come in last or DNF or be last female or whatever, to do it. I want to run more than I “need” to be perfect.

You don’t need an excuse - you need to show up. Get out there and do it.

Done is better than perfect.

Until next week,

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