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Letting Go of Being Perfect

#confidence #focus #highperformance #mentoring May 16, 2023

I was doing a speech in Florida recently. Afterwards, as I was taking off my mic and heading down the steps, I had the usual line of folks coming by to ask a clarifying question or passing along a compliment of how the talk impacted them. An interesting question came up from a young professional who had been following me for awhile, but was still struggling with their confidence especially when a deal falls through. It was a real estate conference. She told me that she gets embarrassed when this happens:

“I have to put the listing back on. Now my peers know I didn’t close the deal. I just hate it when I have SOLD on the board and then have to take it off. It makes me look like I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I listened and validated her perspective. Then I responded by saying, “Let me understand your business a little bit more before I offer you some suggestions.” I asked, ‘”In real estate, how likely is it for every offer to go through? Give me a percentage.”

She responded, “About 80%.” 

“So, if you were training somebody and they closed 80% of their deals, would you give them a grade of A?” I ventured. 


“Yet, here you are expecting yourself to close 100% of your deals,” I reflected.

This is an unrealistic and unhealthy expectation of performance. By trying to be perfect, you’ll never hit your goal and always feel like you’re a failure therefore impacting your self-confidence. In the world of sport, we call this maladaptive perfectionism.

It’s one thing to pursue excellence. It’s another thing to pursue perfection to a point where it impacts your performance and your confidence. When you have an unrealistic expectation to achieve perfection, you have an impossible dream and you never feel like you’re good enough. The average Major League Baseball player gets out 65% of the times at bat. A grade of A there is 35%. They have had to master the art of what excellence looks like in reality. Too many times in my career I have met young, organized professionals who are only used to achieving excellence get hit with their first failure and go spiralling down. Like that real estate agent, they are worried about what they will look like, how they will be perceived and feel the shame of it all. They need to let go of being perfect. Letting go of being perfect is easier said than done, though.

Here two ways to protect against getting paralyzed by perfectionism:

  1. I encourage people to set the benchmark of what a grade of A, B and an average grade might look like. For a realtor, I encouraged her to celebrate if she made 80% because that is exceeding the industry average. I invited her to whoop and holler if she closed 9 out of 10 sales. I told her in no uncertain terms, “DO NOT even think about getting 10 out of 10. That is just setting you up for failure.”

For some of you, a grade of A might be raising your hand and going up front to ask a question. While for others, it might be getting into a networking room, speaking with four people and coming away with 3 business cards versus entering into the networking event and telling yourself that if you don’t come away with a job offer right out of the gates, you’re a failure. Setting realistic expectations like these moves you towards your goals and builds your confidence.


  1. Be cautious not to use the wrong measuring stick. I have noticed eager new team members becoming discouraged when they aren’t immediately promoted or receiving accolades. Too often they set their meter of success against the most seasoned veterans. I urge you to check your benchmarks with your supervisors. Take one step at a time. Strive to master your industry’s fundamentals first. Weigh yourself against historical new classes of hires. Exercise some patience and build your confidence as you successively meet and exceed each step along the way to the top. Setting your sight on the right bar keeps you motivated.

Remember folks, excellence isn’t about being perfect. It’s about continual growth and pushing yourself towards optimizing your potential.


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