When we moved into our newly built house Hans had a design in mind for the garden and did all the landscaping himself. We ordered these beautiful sunny colored bricks and when they arrived he took a few days off work to put them in. Standing at the window I watched his process. He really took his time with each brick. Laying it out, painstakingly flattening the surface of the sand, testing it with a level again and again, tapping it a little here and a little there, adjusting it until it was to his satisfaction. When he was content he put sand in the crevices and used a brush to push in a little more sand and clear the surface.
As I watched him my first response was admiration for the fact he was doing this himself even though he’d never done anything like that before. His meticulousness sparked a smile and I thought: “and they call me a perfectionist!”
Seconds later my admiration made way for something else. Restlessness. Impatience. Not because I was in any rush to get the patio done, but because his slow process was maddening to me. The Monica in me (you’ve watched Friends, right?) wanted to run out there yelling “o-kay” grab the bricks from his hands and put them all in pronto. Show him how you do things. Sure, I wanted the tiles straight, but didn’t he know you are supposed to do things as soon as possible? Isn’t time money or something?!
Being unable to watch it for a second longer I went on to do other things, inwardly still reveling at the realization I wasn’t the only perfectionist of our household.
After many more looooong hours, he was done. I went to the garden to admire the result and it really looked amazing. What’s more, Hans was really chuffed with the result. His sense of satisfaction was appealing and gave me pause a moment. So I came clean about my spark of insanity and asked him about his approach. He told me his philosophy was to just take his time, do the best he could while deciding to be pleased with the result ahead of time.
AHEAD OF TIME! (I didn’t know you could do that! Did you?)
He said he knew the result wasn’t perfect, knew it was slightly lower on one side, but he was happy with it anyway.
I thought he’d revealed himself to be a perfectionist, but as it turns out he and I have very different expectations. We both want to do what we do well, but his approach to getting there was the polar opposite from mine.
Hans knew that what he did in the moment was his best in that moment. He didn’t expect himself to do better than that. I on the other hand, would often rush to the result while finding fault with it when I got there. Then I’d try to make peace with the fact that apparently I couldn’t do better.
I, like most perfectionists, don’t have a conscious expectation of achieving perfection, but often find myself disappointed with the result I get. Seeing only what is flawed, what could have been better. The presence of disappointment the first indication of unmet expectations.
A few weeks ago I talked about how satisfying it is to call where you are Good Enough while working toward something “even better”. But sometimes the phrase “good enough” doesn’t spark satisfaction at all. It has that feeling of barely scraping a pass grade in school. As though the teacher, or in this case the inner critic, is saying:
“Okay, I’ll cut you some slack. This isn’t really what I had in mind but clearly this is all I can expect from you, so sure, let’s call this good enough.”
This is flawed thinking. Being able to see ways it could have been improved upon afterwards doesn’t take away from the fact that in the moment of doing it you did what you could.
We all do what we can with what we’ve got in the moment.
(Think about it, that is always the case.)
That means we could NOT be doing it better!
That day in the garden showed me, not that I needed to lower my expectations (triggering more “not good enough-ness”), but that I could adjust the kind of expectations I have of myself.
These days, instead of expecting great results, I expect myself to work with what I’ve got in the moment. Not only does this stave off disappointment, but what’s more:
Now THAT is having great expectations.