Why ‘Giving It Your Best’ is Overrated {A Guest Post & a Giveaway!}

Today I’m honored to have Stephen Martin share a guest post that’s sure to help recovering perfectionists like myself. Stephen is a speech writer and journalist who blogs at Messy Quest.  His first book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, was just released by Sorin Books. Be sure to leave a comment after this post to be entered to win a copy of Stephen’s book. The contest will close on May 16th at 8 p.m. EST. Good luck!

My wife and I are trying to sell our house. So our real-estate agent persuaded us to host a luncheon for a group of local realtors.

To me, it looked this way: about 25 real-estate agents will show up, look at our place and tell their clients to buy it. How will 25 people actually fit into a house that can barely contain four? Who knows. But that wasn’t our problem. Neither was the lunch, which was supplied and paid for by our agent.

What’s not to like?

The evening before this event, I learned my wife saw it this way: 25 sophisticated Southern women in expensive SUVs will inspect every square inch of our home and probably gossip about all the little (and hopefully not major) things they find wrong with it. The house needs to look PERFECT. Why in the world did I agree to this?!

“If there was ever a time to apply the 80 percent rule,” I told her, “it’s right now.”

This rule is simple: it rarely makes sense to try getting anything exactly 100 percent right, unless you’re flying an airplane or performing surgery or putting somebody in jail. Otherwise, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. And people won’t even notice the perfection you’ve achieved; they’ll be focused instead on the raving lunatic who authored that perfection.

Most of the time, 80 percent is good enough. That’s the point at which you might still retain your sanity or take a walk or remove something else from your to-do list.  I also realize that’s usually a lot easier for a man to say than a woman.

After our first child was born, for example, my wife handed the responsibility for balancing the check book to me. I gave it 80 percent. When she started doing it herself again a few months later, she discovered an interesting fact: the balance was off by $500. To the positive, I might add.

When it comes down to it, it’s not that we find perfection itself deeply satisfying. Mostly, we’re just worried that we’ll be judged by someone else who spots a flaw. Certainly, that was the case in the classic Biblical story of Mary and Martha.

Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to him teach. Martha, meanwhile, scurries around like a maniac trying to be the perfect hostess. And you can’t blame her. If there were ever a time to shoot for perfection, it would be when Jesus visits your house. And yet that’s not what he wants.

“Martha, Martha,” he tells her, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Or in other words: “Follow the 80 percent rule. You’ve done a great job welcoming me. And now you need to reserve that other 20 percent to just be.  Don’t even try to do something productive with it.”

Can you squeeze out 20 percent of your life to be with yourself or your family or your faith, to focus on whatever it is that sustains you? If that’s too much, how about 10 percent for starters? That time can be created – but only when you starting letting 80 percent be good enough as often as possible.
As for the realtor luncheon, it went quite well. I wasn’t around to badger my wife about just giving the preparations 80 percent. My guess is she probably gave 95. And that’s okay. She’s moving in the right direction.

Enter the Conversation...

27 Responses to “Why ‘Giving It Your Best’ is Overrated {A Guest Post & a Giveaway!}”
  1. Erin says:

    Given that I’m just returning to work after having a baby (now 3 months old and still breastfeeding), I DEFINITELY needed this advice about the 80% rule. I’ve been stressing about not being able to do it all – thanks for letting me know I don’t have to!

    • Hi Erin — thanks for reading and best of luck as you return to work. I remember that being quite a transition for me and my wife when she went back to work after our first was born. 80 percent is crucial in a situation like that!

  2. We definitely need to work on this in our house. Sometimes we’ll be getting ready for company and realize that we are doing some insanely detailed task like organizing the spice jars in the cupboard while there are piles of dirty dishes and laundry laying out in the open. Not the best strategy!!

  3. Carrie Wong says:

    I like the 80-20 rule. I’ve been hearing about it in different areas of my life for the past year or so. I think it helps to keep sanity in this SAHM who homeschools a 12 yo ds, 9 yo Dd, and tries to keep a 20 month old ds out of trouble!

    • Thanks for joining the conversation, Carrie. Sounds like you’ve been putting this rule to use successfully — would love to hear more about how you make it work for you!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for the great advice! Sounds like a good book!

  5. Hi Stephen, Hi Kate!
    I’m very familiar with the Martha Mary story. I’ve long been a Martha! It goes with my love of entertaining, but it gets in the way! Sometimes I can’t taste my cooking – can’t tell whether or not it’s good!
    I’m with you – 80% is good enough. I just need to work at it!
    I hear you: “Don’t even try to do something productive with it.” Relax!

    • Hi Lori — always good to hear from you! Yes, I know way more Marthas than Marys and just as many guys who are the equivalent, including me. For example, after grocery shopping, mowing and running tonight, why do I feel compelled to get on the computer, too?

  6. dk says:

    This sounds so much like me and my husband. I can’t rest in the evening until the house is clear and he needs time at the end of the day to “just be” to clear his head from the day’s work. Sounds like a great book!

  7. Chandlee_W says:

    Hi Stephen,
    I really appreciated the validation of what apparently is my personal philosophy. I especially appreciated the biblical “justification” for paying more attention to the spiritual than the every day pressures!

    • And I appreciate your comment, Chandlee. If this is your personal philosophy, you’re definitely in the minority — so congratulations! You should write your own post on how you do it.

  8. sarah says:

    This books sounds great! I love the analogy to Martha and Mary.

  9. Barb S says:

    I like how you related this idea to Mary and Martha. I’m definitely a Martha–guess I do need to read this book!

  10. LindaM says:

    Thank you! I have always been a Mary and have felt guilty about it! I’m trying to be a little more Martha!

    • Hi Linda — we need to get you together with some of the Marthas in this conversation. You all can put together a post that figures out how to strike the Mary-Martha balance once and for all!

  11. Janet Reddick says:

    This may be the best reminder you could ever give to us Type-A personalities. I believe I’ll be sharing it with several friends. Thanks for the sage advice.

    • Hi Janet — we’re separated by just a few miles and yet we connect for the first time in a while in cyberspace! Glad you liked the post — and many thanks for spreading the word.

  12. Hiten says:

    Hi Stephen,

    This was a great post and it’s good to meet you Kate! :-)

    Stephen, one point that really stood out for me in your post was how when we’re trying to be perfect it’s usually in response to believing we’ll be judged by others if we don’t.

    This is so true!

    One the most liberating things I’ve done in life, is to chip away at the need to be perfect in order to look a certain way in the eyes of others.

    It takes effort for someone who is a perfectionist, but is well worth doing in the long run.

    A good thing to remember is that trying to be perfect, is just a feeling of not being good enough. This alone is enough to throw this need right into the rubbish bun! :-)

  13. Megan says:

    Excellent advice for this mom. I’m 39 weeks pregnant tomorrow and trying to get past the need To have a perfectly clean and organized house before baby comes- which is especially hard with a 2 year old!

  14. Nicole says:

    Did I enter this already? I need to!

  15. Lara says:

    Oh my goodness. We are gearing up to sell our house this summer, when hubby gets back from deployment. I’m already feeling exactly this way! Sorting, organizing, packing, giving away–it doesn’t have to be perfect? Thank you for this–sounds like a book I need to read! :)

    • Kate Wicker says:

      Lara, you won!!! I don’t think Random.org has ever picked the last entry of one of my giveaways. Congratulations. Shoot me an email with your mailing address when you get chance. God bless.

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