by See-ming Lee
Delete perfection and have zero expectations

Perfection does not exist. You might as well remove the word from your dictionary right now before it turns you into absolute demise. If perfection existed, I certainly have never seen it, nor have I ever experienced it.

For a large part of my life, I had been a perfectionist, and I expected perfection from others. Since perfection does not exist, you can imagine how unhappy I used to be. I put in 200% of my effort to the point of exhaustion and all I was left with was depression of failing to reach the impossible goal of being perfect. All I was able to see was flaws in myself, and flaws in others. I got upset when things were not perfect, and it drove me nuts.

I believe that there are certain things in life which you cannot learn no matter how intelligent you are. There are things which you can only learn only when you have lived long enough. Older people have the leg up here. I often tell people that I aspire to attain things which could only be gained through time, and this is one of those things. It took me more than three decades to realize that perfection does not exist. I now embrace imperfection fully. I embrace it through these methods:

Zero expectations. I have found that expecting nothing from others is a good way to maintain happiness. When someone promise me that they would complete a task by a certain date, I expect that they would complete nothing. When they do, I get happy. When I order food from a restaurant, I expect them to never show up. So when they do, I get happy. When I decided to meet someone I found on an online personal, I expect that they will look nothing like what they describe to be. When they in fact are somewhat decent, I am happy. It may sound absolutely crazy to live life this way, but I have found this to be a very good life hack to maintain happiness. In the worst case scenario I will just be indifferent. Indifferent is ok because I will at least not feel upset about it. Feeling upset is hazardous to the soul.

Ensure that people know that I am imperfect. I identify what I am not good at: time management, tidy organization of physical space, etc, and I make sure that when I do anything which require those specific skill sets that I work with someone who can cover those. I will not work on any project which does not have a good project manager. I am thankful that I have worked with many excellent project managers / personal assistants who know how to work with crazy people like me while not trying to micro-manage everything. I report progress through daily and if necessarily through hourly reports because I cannot estimate time it takes to complete anything. Though I've also wised up somewhat—by following the principle of “under promise, over deliver”, when I think that things will take 1 week to do, I tell them that it would take 4 weeks to complete. Usually it works out to be around 3 weeks. Knowing this is helpful. By working in an agile fashion, it is good for me and it is good for others. This is also my preference when working in teams.

Say no to things which are unrealistic. I have a tendency to over-commit. When clients ask me if I can do something within an unrealistically short period of time, I used to agree to them and as a result also drove myself to death—literally. The stress was so high that I had contemplated killing myself. The crazy thing was that since I was a perfectionist then, I decided to postpone suicide because I could not see myself having a tomb with something like “SML, the one who did not finish an XYZ project.” I also considered the possibility that no one would show up to my funeral because I somehow messed up their project. Yes I know that this is all very funny but somehow crazies have their crazy ways to cope with life. These days I just say no. I tell people to go find someone else for things which I think will kill me. Interestingly they usually stay with me because usually when I was given unrealistic requests like that it was because they could not find any humans to do it and I am usually their last hope. Wishful thinking is a common attribute among humans. Humans are just weird.

Be thankful. A lot of people that I have met feel “entitled” to things because they have done something else. I promote the idea of “zero expectations” and so I am thankful to those who have done anything—no matter how small—for me. A lot of people have the philosophy that just because someone work at their company, they can slave-drive their employees as bots. Don't do that. Humans are not capable of sustaining high levels of pressure. Since I maintain zero-expectations from others, I am thankful when people have completed the tasks as requested and as promised. It works out ok.

Be independent. Zero expectations require that I be independent, so I utilize every opportunity to learn new things and skills. I also spend much time researching productivity tools which would help me cope with my deficiencies better. I utilize hashtags e.g. #sml2do for things I need to do. Using unique but consistent hashtags allow me to then use Google to then track things which are not yet completed. I make sure that there are always multiple point of entries of the same todo lists.

Be forgiving. Mastership of zero expectations remove the need to forgive because I will never be upset. But although I don't seem human to most, I am in fact human. Attaining zero expectations has been a difficult journey, and I suspect that it will be a life long journey. So until I am able to reach my goal (which is probably never because perfection does not exist), I remind myself to be forgiving. If I wish that others be more understanding to my own imperfection then I need to be forgiving.

I am writing these thoughts down because Mr James Reeves suggested to me that I should write more. I’d like to thank him for his suggestion. It does seem that writing it out eases the pain somewhat.