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I have this fun, dare-I-say Pinterest-worthy gallery wall in my office full of photos and moose heads and inspirational sayings—some that are actually inspirational, and some that just make me laugh.
One little sign says, “Believe in Your Selfie.” One says, “Trust me, you can Dance—Vodka.” (Even my mom who disapproves laughs at that one.) And there is a chalkboard (I’m telling you, it is very Pinterest!) that reads, “Don’t let Perfect be the Enemy of Good.”
The first two just make me laugh (hopefully, this is obvious). And that last one, I chose because it is something I have to be intentional about because it does not come naturally for me.
My first-born blood runs deep and I have missed out on or cheated myself of enjoying so many experiences because I can’t let go of perfect.
For example, I love painting. When I was seven years old, the grandma of one of our neighbors taught oil painting classes to other old ladies out in the country. And being then as cool as I am now, I wanted in on that action.
After my mom proved that I could sit still and be quiet for an extended period of time, she weaseled me a seat at the old lady painting table. And there I sat, every Tuesday afternoon until I graduated from high school (unless I had drama or speech practice—my coolness knows no bounds!), painting. I loved it.
But when I went to college, I didn’t take even one art class. I didn’t consider myself an “artist”—it was just something I loved to do with the old ladies. I wasn’t going to be an art major. I was sure I wasn’t good enough to take a real painting class. In college.
To date, it is one of my biggest regrets. What was I thinking? Why would it matter? What was I so worried about?
The problem with perfect is that, for the most part, it is a lie. Each of us is using a different measuring stick. And it’s all mixed up with our unique stories and histories and starts and stops and strengths and insecurities. There will always be someone who can out-perfect our perfect. It is a hopeless pursuit.
I’ve been thinking about this concept as it relates to our finances. And here’s the thing, I think perfect is keeping a lot of us in the red. It is a resting place for all of our best excuses and it is holding us back.
When we are attempting to do something new or different or hard, we can make starting artificially overwhelming. We feel like we aren’t ready to start, just yet. Once we have things lined up. Once we’ve done a little more research. Once we are more organized.
How many times have you said something along the lines of: We will start saving after this month. After we buy the new car, then we will start investing. Once we get a raise, then we can start budgeting. As soon as we have a normal month, we can stop using the credit card.
Or we could just start. Accept that we will learn as we go, and figure it out along the way. It may be just one small step forward, but that is one step forward. And that is progress.
If an emergency happens and it puts you back in the red, or you miscalculate and don’t have the money you hoped you would have, or even if you just get really hungry, it would be easy to throw up your hands and say, “Ugh! This is not a perfect budget! I am not perfect at this! I can’t do it—it doesn’t work!”
But it would be easier to say, “There are no perfect months. I will roll with the punches, move some money around, and learn from this, so I am a better budgeter next month.”
There are not perfect people or perfect budgets. There are just people committed to being intentional with every dollar, empowered by awareness and in control of their money; and people who are overwhelmed, stressed and generally unprepared and unaware of the what, when and how of their finances.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can quit because you are not perfect. You aren’t perfect, and that is exactly why you can’t quit.
One of the other chalkboards in my office (I’m a one-trick pony!) reads: “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” The thing about perfect is, we can only define it through contrast and comparison.
How perfect is my house? My kids? My savings account? Well, the answer—the degree of my perfection—depends on whom I’m being measured against.
If we are constantly striving for perfect, we are constantly looking outside ourselves for mile markers, some way to measure how we are doing. It’s a moving target and it isn’t helpful.
Everyone’s situation and priorities are different. Which means my perfect and your perfect will probably look entirely different. How awesome is that?
Don’t let arbitrary perfect keep you from starting, being unsatisfied along the way, or ultimately, giving up. Because there is no perfect. There are priorities and the pursuit of those priorities—it might not feel perfect every step of the way—but every step is one step closer to where you want to be.
Remember, budgeting is not restrictive. You won’t be spending less, you’ll be spending right. You can do this! Today. Right now. What do you have to lose? Except all that debt and stress. (Ok, so kind of a lot.)
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