The urge to be perfect can prevent you from taking action. You don’t share creative projects that aren’t 100 per cent ready, or you’re afraid to ask someone out if you’re not sure it’s exactly right — so you just … don’t. If you’re feeling stymied by this need to never screw up, try making a mistake on purpose.
Making an on-purpose mistake would seem to be innocuous; after all, if you’re trying to make a mistake, isn’t the mistake itself not a mistake? Even so, mistake-making can be a good way to test your unnecessary commitment to perfectionism, says Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code. In an op-ed for USA Today, Saujani says that during a workshop, she challenged a group of women to send a work email with a typo in it. The person receiving it wouldn’t know they’d done it on purpose, so it would still read as an error. She suggested this purposeful mistake as a way to bust down the restricting walls of perfectionism:
Research confirms that perfectionists — completely stunted by anxiety and procrastination — are less successful in any given field. As psychologist Thomas Greenspan wisely pointed out, “waiting for the surgeon to be absolutely sure the correct decision is being made could allow me to bleed to death.” And studies indicate that perfectionism is a stronger indicator of procrastination and anxiety for women than it is for men.
When failure isn’t an option, neither is taking risks, and that right there is how perfection strangles bravery. These are the consequences of perfectionism. But those aren’t the only consequences.
Making a controlled mistake would allow the women who did it to experience the fallout — and for the most part, when we make a mistake like a typo, the fallout is … zero. Most of us don’t have jobs that allow no room for error, but even so, the fear of errors prevents us from reaching our full potential. The best way to get better at anything is through practice, putting yourself out there, and learning from the mistakes you’re so scared of making.
So screw up a little. Try saying the wrong word in conversation, flipping to the wrong slide in a presentation, stepping in the wrong direction in Zumba class. See what happens when you mess up — then you’ll know. Whatever the thing you fear messing up is in your professional or personal life, that’s what you need to test. You might discover that it’s not something you have to be worried about at all.