Perfection Is The Thief Of Joy: Why Progression Is Key

The Ultimate Guide To Striving For Progression Instead Of Perfection


Perfection is unattainable.

I know this.

You know this.

We know this.

So, why is it that I find myself waking every morning surprised and, honestly, disappointed that I am still living this imperfect life?

I am young. I know that I have yet to experience the true disappointments of the world. I still see things as a little shinier than they are. I still find myself debating if the world had always been this bad or if my youth had made me blissfully ignorant, as I adorned the world through my rose-colored glasses.

When I set out to accomplish a goal, I always start off with an unrelenting amount of gusto and determination. I am highly motivated, ready to make a change, and confident that it will go perfectly. But, as time goes by, and reality sets in, the goals that once seemed so achievable are now feeling further and further from my reach. I struggle to recapture the energy and excitement that I once possessed, because with every rejection, failure, or misstep that energy and excitement has steadily turned its back to me.

That glory, that perfect thing I aspired to capture, that perfect, live-changing goal seems to be nothing, but a mirage conjured up in my thirst for a new life.

A different life.

A perfect life.

But as I told you, perfection is unattainable.

I know this.

You know this.

We know this.

Yet, I still find myself constantly searching for perfection in every corner and crevice of my life, because although I know perfection is unattainable, my brain has yet to fathom that perfection, regardless of my unshakable plans, cannot be obtained.

Then, instead of appreciating where I have come, I spend most of my time focused on where I have been and where I will never go. I resign myself to the idea that the battle has been lost. That all the work I have accomplished that led me here have been for not. Instead of seeing myself as progressive, I slap a failure sign on yet another fallen plan. I cry tears of anger and disappointment, ignoring that unrelenting fact that keeps knocking at the forefront of my mind: Perfection is unattainable...but progress is not.

Striving for continuous improvement instead of perfection should be the goal.

So, why is that every chance that we get to give ourselves a pat on the back, for coming as far as we have come, ends up being a shove into ongoing traffic? Why is it that instead of appreciating how far we've come, we glumly look at the miles we have to go? Why is that we can give everyone we love and care for a break for being "perfectly imperfect" but we still find the cracks in our own formidable foundations? Why are we so hard on ourselves?

Well, it's simple really: we spend most of our time aspiring for perfection instead of progress. There's a fine line between striving to do better and never getting anything done because you're trying to make it better. And until we acknowledge that line, we will continue to reflect in our inability to ever be "satisfied."

So, if you're like me and you want to leave this toxic cycle of unhealthy self-criticism, inconsistent motivation, and flawlessness mindset behind, check out the tips below. With this, you and I can stop our unattainable attempt at perfection and simply appreciate our progression.

The Hindrance of Perfection

Getty Images

Here are some ways that perfectionism might have stopped you from realizing achievable goals:

It slows you down.

Trying to achieve perfection requires more energy, focus, and time. When you narrowly focus your attention on details, things take more time, which can dwindle your energy and tire you out. This makes it more difficult to make meaningful change.

It leads to self-criticism.

When you fall short of a goal, your judgmental inner voice can start throwing insults your way, creating a never-ending battle with yourself. This self-imposed mental assault may lead you to abandon your goal completely. Worse yet, you may be left with an underlying sense that you'll never have the resources or the ability to achieve your goals.

It hinders new ideas and ways of doing things.

When your concentration is directed toward flawlessness, you lose the ability to be aware and open to other possibilities. Perfectionism can keep you stuck doing the same thing over and over again with the same result.

It makes your motivation inconsistent.

By focusing on perfection, you tend to think in terms of black or white. Win or lose. Fail or succeed. There is no gray or middle ground. This type of thinking can make your motivation rather inconsistent. For instance, when things are going well, you might feel confident, skilled, and capable. These positive emotions can encourage you to keep going. But as soon as things turn for the worst, you start feeling discouraged and uninspired. These negative emotions tend to taint your energy and enthusiasm, which makes it tough to pursue the goal.

The Beauty of Progression

Getty Images

Focusing on progress instead of perfection, can make it much easier and enjoyable to reach your goals. Here are some benefits of focusing on progress:

It convinces you to keep going.

It can be empowering to look back and see the progress you've made despite challenges you've endured. When things become difficult, draw on your past successes to propel you forward. Reflecting on your progress can also reinforce the belief that you can change — that your goals are within your reach. This belief in yourself fuels your motivation and can sustain you during challenging times.

It encourages a mindset of learning, not failure.

In the business world, there is a term used to describe the concept of viewing each mistake as an opportunity to learn from what went wrong, rather than as a win-or-lose proposition. It's called "failing forward," or "failing up." Try applying this concept to your daily life. The word "failure" becomes obsolete because there are only learning experiences on the path to achieving your goals. When you focus on what you've learned, it takes the pressure off and gives you space to experiment with new approaches to see what works and what doesn't. The path to obtaining your goal becomes more enjoyable.

It gives you more reasons to celebrate.

By focusing on progress, your eyes are open to each accomplishment and success, no matter how small. With this awareness, it becomes possible to celebrate every breakthrough. You'll relish the next step because you're excited about what the future holds.

It's sustainable.

Perfectionism isn't sustainable because life is ever-changing and perfection does not exist. There will always be new trials and tribulations that will sway you from your original goal. You'll need to be nimble and flexible to manage all the challenges life hands you. By focusing on progress, you can more easily overcome obstacles, because you know there will be ups and downs. You know that you don't have to be perfect. You know that the path to success isn't a straight line but rather sharp, unexpected turns. Knowing this keeps you on the path to accomplishing your goals.

So, next time you find yourself trying to be perfect, beating yourself up for each misstep, remember this: perfection is unattainable. Instead, identify one or two actions you can take to solve a problem you may have, reframe past failure, and see it as progress. But most importantly, set realistic goals.

Strive for progression instead.

Featured image by Getty Images

Related Stories

Chasing Perfection Took Me Away From God - Read More

Letting Go Of Perfection Helped Me Live My Purpose - Read More

How The Rise Of Perfectionism Is Stunting Your Growth - Read More

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

Naomi Osaka has recently released her self-titled Netflix docuseries, and giving us a rare glimpse into the 23-year-old tennis player's personal life. She shows off her relationship with rapper Cordae, and we also see her close bond with her older sister, Mari Osaka. Like Naomi, Mari is an experienced tennis player. The 25-year-old made her professional debut in 2014, then retired in early 2021.

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

I started dreaming about moving abroad when I was about 21 years old. I remember returning from a two-week study abroad trip to Dublin, Ireland having my eyes and mind wide open to the possibility of living overseas. This new travel passion was intensified after graduating from college in 2016, and going on a group trip to Italy. I was intoxicated by my love for Italy. It's hands down my favorite place. However, my post-grad life was one twist and turn after the next. I'm sure you can relate.

Keep reading... Show less

This article is in partnership with Staples.

As a Black woman slaying in business, you're more than likely focused on the bottom line: Serving your customers and making sure the bag doesn't stop coming in. Well, there's obviously more to running a business than just making boss moves, but as the CEO or founder, you might not have the time, energy, or resources to fill in the blanks.

Keep reading... Show less

If you are a frequent reader of my articles, then you know that I am front-of-the-class here for the culture. Using all of my platforms to be vocal about Black women and all things Blackity, Black, Black, Black is how I get down, and frankly, if you aren't here for me bragging on my people, then we probably won't have much in common. The wave has been snowballing too, because so many feel the same way I do, which is something we've had to consciously build up as a community.

Keep reading... Show less

Whether still dealing with the aftershocks of the pandemic, not being able to get enough time off or money being a little on the tight side is what's preventing you from going on a romantic vacation this summer, who's to say that you can't do a sexy staycation instead? If the mere thought of that feels like a poor man's — or woman's — consolation prize, I promise you that it absolutely does not have to. Opting to stay at home while possibly throwing in a couple of day trip adventures (which is a classic definition of a staycation, by the way) can be loads of fun, super romantic and also really cost effective without feeling mad cheap.

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

'Insecure' Writer Mike Gauyo Talks His Journey From Med School To The Writers' Room

"Meeting Issa Rae was a story of perseverance, following up, being persistent and all of the characteristics and attributes you need to be a successful writer."

Latest Posts