Like many families, we planted a garden this year. Our 16-year-old daughter wanted to be in charge. No one argued with her.
She spent hours weeding and watering. She labored through the heat of the summer. The garden looks great. But there is one thing she does not want to do. She does not want to harvest the “fruits of her labor.”
She hates picking the beans, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe and watermelon. There is not one thing she wants to harvest. She would rather see the fruits and vegetables rot on the vine than pick them.
It’s made me think. How often do we get close to the harvest and just stop?
Why do 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions go by the wayside by February 1? Or why do 97 percent of the people who begin writing a book never finish? How many unfinished projects do we have laying around? Why do we give up instead of sticking it out?
I read a book this week by author Jon Acuff called “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done.” In it, he says the reason many people quit is they are overcome by perfectionism. After all, we reason if you can’t do something perfectly, better not to do it at all. I have kids who would rather get D’s on purpose than try to do well and “only” get a B. I would rather spend eight months worrying about getting the colors “just right” on a new website than actually launch it. I mean who does stuff like that?! Turns out, a lot of people do.
Acuff runs a 30-day course to help people work on their goals. As he looked at the peak time for people to quit, he found that it was Day Two. “The day after perfect,” he calls it. The next highest time to quit is right before the end. Interesting, isn’t it?
Brené Brown, a well-known shame researcher, wrote a book called “The Gifts of Imperfection.” In it, she says: “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis … Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?’”
Gay Hendricks, author of “The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level” says it another way: “Each of us has an inner thermostat setting that determines how much love, success, and creativity we allow ourselves to enjoy. When we exceed our inner thermostat setting, we will often do something to sabotage ourselves, causing us to drop back into the old, familiar zone where we feel secure.” He says we “Upper Limit” ourselves, like the young woman who deliberately bombed her last semester in college and then could not graduate.
This does not mean we don’t quit things all the time. I quit drinking soda three months ago. I quit ballet lessons when I was 9. I quit worrying about folding fitted sheets a long time ago. The key is knowing when to quit and why and when to persevere. Unltramarathoner Dick Collins says “Decide before the race the conditions that will cause you to stop and drop out. You don’t want to be out there saying, “Well gee, my leg hurts, I’m a little dehydrated, I’m sleepy, I’m tired, and it’s cold and windy.” And talk yourself into quitting. If you are making a decision based on how you feel at that moment, you will probably make the wrong decision.”
When it comes to our garden, we have all pitched in to bring in the harvest. Sometimes, that’s just what we need - a team who has our backs, who will fill in when we just can’t do it anymore. Here’s to moving past perfectionism and on to actually finishing.
Holly Richardson starts far more than she actually finishes, but recently, she finished a research project, finished a graduate paper and finished canning tomatoes for the season.