For many years I have played hockey. I have not seen myself play the game, so always assumed that I look similar to the others playing on the same field. This assumption changed when I was in the big city for a pre-tournament training camp. One member of the team was generous enough to drive me back to my accommodation for the night. On the drive he said, “You know, the only way I can describe your style of play is, clumsy but effective.”
When I thought more about it, I concluded that this is a nice way to view life in general. Whatever area of life you consider, clumsy but effective is still effective, and way more fun than perfect flow every step of the way.
Socially, most of us will feel a little uneasy about the way we are fitting in. Sometimes we can be nervous about meeting a new bunch of people, so we try to tell a story, trip over our words, then completely forget the point of what we were saying to start with. When this happens, we feel embarrassed and want to disappear and never see these people again. What actually happens is that we show our vulnerable human side, and this seems to ingratiate us to the others in the group. So, we think we made a fool of ourselves when we actually made a few new friends. Clumsy, but effective.
At work, the boss may ask you to take on a project that you feel is out of your scope, or beyond your level of expertise. So, you have at it, make a few mistakes along the way, ask for advice, learn a lot, and eventually present your work fearing that this will be your last day in the job only to find that the whole project is well received and praised by your colleagues and boss. You are the only one who can see that the whole project is held together with cable ties and duct tape, metaphorically or literally. Clumsy, but effective.
We accept “good enough” from others, why not ourselves?
The other people in your life do not see the mistakes you make along the way; they only see the end result. Also, many of us aim for perfection in our own work while accepting “good enough” from someone else. Once we start aiming for perfection for ourselves socially, at work, in sport, artistically, with body image, or in any other aspect of life, we become overloaded with unnecessary stress and will inevitably fail. When aiming for perfection, we head into a dangerous spiral of perpetual failure and unmanageable stress.
To address this kind of stress there are two things that need to be considered:
1. What will you accept?
Who is deciding what is perfect? And if perfect is unrealistic, what will you accept as good enough? We need to be okay with part of the process being a little ugly if it allows us to take the next step towards a bigger end goal.
What mistakes are you willing to accept and expecting to make? Back to hockey: I have noticed that the main difference between a good local club player, and an international player is how quickly they can recover mentally from making a mistake and get themselves back into the game. At any time during a game, a player might miss trap a ball and have an opposition player run off with it. A good club player will look longingly at the umpire, bang their stick into the turf, and jog back into position apologising to their teammates. An international player will instantly turn and make every effort to regain the ball.
As a default setting, human beings tend to strive to self-actualisation. This means that we are programmed to be our best self at any given moment. If you are potentially needing to lower your expectations of yourself, it is only to a level that is more realistic, to decrease the overload of stress you are experiencing. It does not mean that you go from a high functioning, high achieving individual to slouching on the couch, eating chips, binge-watching Love Island. It does mean that you recognise your achievements, so you feel okay about having some chill out time to allow you to reenergise for the next challenge, you earned it!
If you are willing to accept that you are human and are willing to realistically challenge your expectations of yourself, you can decrease the unnecessary stress caused by unrealistic high standards.
2. Be okay with being vulnerable.
Scary right? Think of the last time you avoided doing something because you were afraid of failing, afraid of what it meant if you achieved, afraid of being judged, afraid of not being awesome first time, afraid of not being perfect. We all do this, and usually we avoid things that we know we would probably enjoy – all those life affirming activities. The real reason we avoid things is because we are afraid to be vulnerable. This feeling of vulnerability ramps up the stress levels and is linked to the unrealistic drive for perfection. When we are not performing to our own high standards, we feel exposed, and vulnerable. This causes stress. Once again, our primal instinct for survival tells us that exposed plus vulnerable equals dead. Whereas, these days, it means hitting a bum note when trying to play a tune on a piano in front of family for the first time.
Accepting that we will not do something to our unrealistic high standards means that we need to find a way to be okay with being vulnerable. This means putting the situation into perspective. Does being a bit vulnerable in this situation mean instant death, or does it mean a shy smile, say “oops” and move on.
Living life in a clumsy but effective way means you are still achieving your goals in life, while experiencing a lot less stress and noticing how much fun life is as you journey your way through it. I’m not saying that this will be a great way to approach life for everyone, but if you feel that you are under a lot of pressure and constantly let down by your own performance not measuring up to expectations, you may want to consider opening up to a bit of clumsiness.