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.