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Perfectionism vs. Mindfulness

I am a perfectionist or, in other words, I aspire to something that can’t happen.

I have spent my whole life measuring myself against an ideal set so ridiculously high that I have never reached it, and when I did, I found a new Thing I Needed To Be Okay.

That cycle gets old.

I then dive into what Dr. Kevin Leman calls “Discouraged Perfectionism”--a depressing mindset that results in quitting hobbies, interests, academics, sports, whatever, because I’m not Instantly Perfect or, maybe worse, not even starting such things because I think I won’t be successful.

This is not a way to live.

I am given lots of (mostly unsolicited) advice about how to manage these internal events, ranging from teachers saying things like, “All the other kids have had the same amount of time for this paper. I don’t see why you can’t get it done,” to my parents telling me, “Just push through it!” There are kernels of truth in these statements, but I can’t utilize them when I’m coming from that place, that discouraged perfectionism, that impossibility of beginning to chip away at my ever-piling responsibilities because I certainly won’t be perfect at that either.

There is a lot of talk in the Agile community about my favorite way to climb out of this bottomless pit: mindfulness. Meditation and mindfulness are scientifically proven to help anyone--especially my fellow discouraged perfectionists--let go of the main thing standing in our way: ourselves.

Practicing mindfulness is something I both do and encourage others to do while I’m at The Study Bar.

As I read The Art of Agile Software Development, I am learning about the concept of Agile Thrashing: having so many ideas and tangents and jumping from one to the next so fast that, no matter how good the concepts are, they don’t go anywhere. Sometimes we don’t get a chance to vote on them or have a true ideation session because there are so many.

The conundrum of Agile Thrashing is something I face in a quickly-evolving startup like TSB. We dip our toes into so many areas: helping high school students, working with college students, providing internal internships, connecting people with external opportunities, fostering mentorships, working on our own software projects, designing our physical space, advancing our brand and advertising, the list goes on. All of these bounce around in my head; I am an Agile Thrasher if there ever was one. I come into work with so many overflowing ideas, and I just want to talk about all of them. This is valuable, but it can result in distracting myself and the team.

Here’s where mindfulness comes in: I focus on my breath, I feel the sensations in my body, I say a simple mantra and I focus on the task at hand.

Nota bene: Ideas are amazing. The magic of tech is that we turn ideas into real things in record time. I never encourage anyone to stifle their ideas nor do I intend to begin internalizing my own. But I do hope to strike a balance: to write ideas down and wait until a better time to discuss them. To focus on active listening instead of trying to immediately talk my ideas out. To make sure quieter members of the group are heard. And to bring up my ideas at a point in time where we can work on them.

I will venture to say that my fellow discouraged perfectionists will benefit from taking some of these attitudes on. Perfectionism makes us live in the past and the future, but the only thing we have is the now. Agile Thrashing happens all the time to “idea people”-- we never stop brimming with iteration after iteration of the Next Big Thing.

I will speak for myself when I say this: I have to rein myself in, not creatively but emotionally, if I hope to make any actual progress on Next Big Things numbers 1 through 100,000.

TSB is where I get to grow in this way. Many of us feel we must be perfect. Many of us are discouraged by the fact that perfection will not happen. Many of us agile thrash. These things are

okay; they are a part of us.

But now, so are mindfulness and metacognition and the tangible accomplishments that follow.

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