You don’t have to be the best

When I was younger, I studied ballet. By the time high school rolled around, I was spending 16 hours a week at the ballet studio, and that number would easily double when we were getting ready for performances. I wanted to be a prima ballerina and I poured most of my free time into preparing for that goal.

Then one day, I looked in the studio mirror and realized I wasn’t the best dancer in my company. I was technically proficient and extremely graceful, but there were at least two other girls who made me look like I had never taken a dance class in my life. These girls were exquisite, and a part of me knew that I would never be the prima ballerina as long as they were dancing.

So, I quit.

After 13 years of eating, studying, training, and living the life of a ballerina, I walked away from all of it without any notice.

I rarely talk about my time studying ballet because I am embarrassed by how it all ended. I can’t believe that I was so arrogant as to believe that if I wasn’t the best, I wanted nothing to do with it.

What surprises me, though, is how often I turn to this flawed logic. Maybe you do the same thing? I didn’t take up running until my mid-30s because I knew I was a slow runner. It never crossed my mind that I might run for some reason other than winning a race. I never thought about the benefits of the exercise, how good I would feel while running, and that I might love running just for the sake of running. I missed out on decades of running because I wasn’t going to be the best runner. Ugh.

I run into this type of all-or-nothing absolutist thinking a great deal when talking to people about uncluttering. They see it as a dichotomy where a person will either be organized or disorganized. They don’t try to get even a little clutter out of their lives because they can’t get all clutter removed. They know that the prima Unclutterers will always be “better,” so they don’t try at all.

The humbling truth of the matter is that there will always be someone who is better at doing something than you are. Thankfully, uncluttering isn’t a competition and it doesn’t require you to be the best. It doesn’t matter if someone does it better than you do. You don’t get rid of clutter for someone else, you get rid of it for you. Comparing yourself to another person is unnecessary; you only need to look at your life and your needs to decide what is best for you.

77 Comments for “You don’t have to be the best”

  1. posted by Kari on

    How true and a great reminder to the many of us who fall prey to perfectionist all or nothing thinking. There are so many ways for things to be worthwhile–they don’t (thank goodness) all have to involve being “the best.”

  2. posted by gooseling on

    I am the same way a lot of the time, and I did ballet for the same amount of time as you did. I ended up being a trainee with a professional company and since I was obviously not good enough to be in a ballet company, I decided to put it away as a hobby and go to school. Now, as a graduate, I have realized that there are ten thousand other forms of dance that I love and ballet has trained me to be able to do most of them with ease and I’m starting to take classes and audition. It’s never too late to follow your dream.

    Really, as long as you’re happy, you don’t need to be the best, perfectionists are never happy.

  3. posted by BJJ Grrl on

    […] You don’t have to be the best […]

  4. posted by Julia on

    I have trouble with math. I convinced myself in high school that I couldn’t do math. Why? Because I got a B in advanced algebra.

    A B.

    I shut myself off from a lot of interesting – and practical – knowledge because I “couldn’t do math.” It became a self-fulfilling prophecy; now I really do have trouble with figures, because I freeze when I see them. I can’t even do sudoku, because it makes me feel stupid.

    What a waste.

  5. posted by infmom on

    My parents insisted on music lessons when I was a kid. I didn’t do very well with the piano, but my mother would not let me quit. I also didn’t do very well with the clarinet, and not only would they not let me quit, they insisted I take private lessons from a colleague of my dad’s at the college.

    When we moved from Virginia to Iowa, I was able to drop the piano lessons because my parents didn’t know a local teacher, but I had to take clarinet lessons at school and play in the school band. I hated the whole business of playing the clarinet by that time, but my mother was adamant (I think the fact that they had spent more money than they could afford buying my clarinet instead of taking the sensible approach and renting it from the school had a lot to do with that).

    At the end of the eighth grade, however, I laid it on the line–I wasn’t much good, I wasn’t getting good grades, and music should not be a chore. I got an earful from my mother but I out-stubborned her and was allowed to drop the clarinet. I think the only reason she agreed to that was that my oldest brother’s orthodontist suggested that he take up a reed instrument of some kind to help lengthen his upper lip, which had been affected by all the years he’d had buck teeth. I handed over the clarinet with joy in my heart.

    I still regret not ever managing to learn to play the piano properly. I took voice lessons in high school and did quite well, but my parents did not consider singing to be “music” so that didn’t count.

    Sometimes even knowing you’ll never be the best isn’t good enough to influence powerful outside forces that won’t let you call it quits. 🙂

  6. posted by marlie on

    I often find that I don’t tackle things because I am afraid of not being the best, as well. I certainly do take a n all-or-nothing approach to a lot of things in my life, which has come back to bite me in the rear. Logically, I understand that not being “the best” does NOT equal being the absolute worst, but often emotionally, I am unable to make that distinction.

    One of my biggest problem areas is with uncluttering and housekeeping. I know that I *should* target a little bit at a time, and by doing a little bit each day (and saving the occasional weekend afternoon for larger projects), everything will fall into place, but then I look around the disaster zone that is my apartment, and I freak out! I spend maybe a half hour on one project, but then I sit down on the couch and realize that I have a LOT of half hour projects left!

    Anyway, here’s to not having to be the best, but rather, being happy with what we ARE able to do.

  7. posted by Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on

    This is such a great post; I’ve seen this so much in action! How much are we hindering ourselves with this thinking? What more could we have done as individuals — and as a species, even — if we could get beyond this “be the best” nonsense?

  8. posted by Amy on

    Good post.

  9. posted by Sarah on

    The exact same thing happened to me. 11 years spent studying ballet, 15 hours a week, then my senior year of high school I quit after the first week. I enjoyed it, it just wasn’t enough to justify the time spent. Besides, I had known for years that I wasn’t, and wouldn’t be, the best.

  10. posted by Sasha on

    Thank you for articulating what I’ve had trouble describing to my friends and family! I studied violin performance at the Manhattan School of Music, but left after two years because I thought I’d never be perfect enough to win an audition. I thought the other students who were more technically proficient would be more successful, even though I was a much more proficient ensemble performer than they were. I decided to “stop wasting time” amongst the exceptional musicians and pursued a liberal arts degree at a university.

    In retrospect, I was terrified of failure and crippled by my flaws. I’ve gradually been able to learn to live with my less-than-perfect self, but I do regret my choice to abandon violin performance. I don’t know if I ever would have won a job with an orchestra, but I do know that I was too afraid to try, and perhaps fail.

    When I worked as a corporate recruiter, my director helped me understand a crucial aspect of reality: The best person for the job won’t even be in the applicant pool. You can only choose the best person for the job from the pool of applicants who apply.

    I really think this advice helped me understand that despite people who are better/more perfect/more qualified than I am, I just might be the best person for the job/task/audition/etc.

    It’s all relative. Don’t worry about imperfections, because everybody has them.

  11. posted by Karolina on

    I think this also shows a different principle: if you get really good at something, you’re no longer able to do it half-way. You either do it, or you don’t. Because after you were once good, doing the same thing poorly isn’t much joy at all.
    At age 22 I quit piano cold-turkey after 14 years of lessons, in order to take up ballroom dance. For the first few months, I couldn’t even look at a piano – it made me so sad when I sat down and couldn’t play things that used to be easy. It took a few years to come to terms with how much worse I’d become and to be able to occasionally play just for fun without it being boring or heartbreaking.

  12. posted by Kevin on

    The difference between the best people at an activity and myself is mostly just more time spent practicing, and maybe time better spent during practice (by using better technique, better feedback to improve more quickly). The key is to “get better” every time you try something – practice with feedback, don’t get flustered by mistakes, etc.

  13. posted by s on

    I just want to give myself a small “pat on the back” for decluttering this weekend. In anticipation of a move, I worked my way through two stuffed file boxes and wittled it down to just one stuffed file box. I probably would never miss that remaining stuff, either, but it’s a good start. And I move a lot, but don’t usually make the effort to skinny down.

    I also scanned hundreds of pages of financial and medical papers. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever need them, but at least now I don’t have to carry the paper around–it’s all on my computer. Next goal, clean up the external hard drive!

  14. posted by s on

    Oh yeah, I also need to actually get rid of the paper. It’s “staged” and ready to go, but I’m scared to actually shred it!

  15. posted by Peter (a different one) on

    Great post. I took guitar lessons for years and I’m decent at it. I always wanted to play gigs on the weekend, just for fun, but after setting it aside for years due to not “being the best” at it, I’m strggling to pick up where I left off.

    I think we need to embrace what we enjoy, especially if we are not the best at it. One of my good friends from High School is an insurance adjuster, but on the weekends, he plays in a band. I’m jealous!

  16. posted by eva on

    another here with a similar experience…I studied violin from age 5 to 17–when I realized I wouldn’t be able pass the conservatory audition due to performance anxiety, I stopped playing entirely.

    now I’m ten years older and I understand the real worth of any activity is entirely in yourself and not in the audience. I think those years off were extremely good for me, and I am glad that I took a break. I may never perform, but now I have fun.

  17. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    I struggle with this still. I was never terribly competitve, but definitely perfectionistic, and I still get frustrated if I don’t grasp something right away. I never did dance or sports because I just couldn’t enjoy it if I wasn’t good at it, and I think I missed out on a lot because of that.

  18. posted by uma on

    Be the best? Hah! To quote the woman who has become the embodied representation of one of those wil will always be better than me in many things:

    “I work hard to be this mediocre, damnit!”

  19. posted by Michele on

    I used to date a fella who would freeze at doing some household chores because he didn’t have enough time to do the job “completely” or “right.” That sounds like the same all-or-nothing, best-or-don’t-do-it-at-all kind of thing as what Erin describes.

    When I started law school I knew that time management was going to be my biggest challenge. So I decided that I needed to break away from my own “all or nothing” tendencies and “allow” myself to only half-clean the bathroom, or dust but not vacuum, or do the dishes only once per day. That fella I used to date, his bathroom would frequently get really gnarly. As for me, it would look a little odd sometimes to see a gleaming tub but a dusty counter and spotted medicine cabinet mirror. But I figured half-clean was better than gnarly, and I could find enough spare 10 minutes over a week to keep the bathroom reasonably sanitary and neat.

  20. posted by Angie on

    As the fourth and youngest daughter, I rarely had my eye on being the best. I just wanted to be included. I followed my sisters into art and craft and music and sometimes eclipsed them, but in my own way. I just wanted to be part of community.
    I took ballet after highschool and love the discipline. It is one hobby that I am terrified to do in community.

  21. posted by Heather on

    My husband always says to me, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

  22. posted by Kelly on

    Lori P. – I’m the same way. I think it goes to my hatred of “feeling stupid” and not grasping something instantly makes me feel stupid. Which really IS stupid because of COURSE I’m not going to grasp everything instantly. I think it had kept me from trying any number things, but I’m working past it.

    I’m getting ready to start my third year back at tap dancing after a good 20+ years off and I love it. While I still struggle with wanting to be perfect at every step, I’m relaxing a bit and just trying my best. Having fun is way more important than being the best.

  23. posted by Jessica on

    I wanted to be a professional musician (flute) and also realized that I couldn’t be the best so I changed my major and pretty much set it aside. Although I’m glad I didn’t pursue that major, I do wish I could get through the thinking “all or nothing”. I too, have a hard time being able to do something half-way, like cleaning. If I can’t make a situation optimized for perfection I have a hard time doing it. My silly perfectionism gets in the way of success more than it should. This is a good reminder for me to refocus my efforts on time management and learning to accept things (and myself) for being less than ideal.

  24. posted by Wendy on

    I heard another one similar to Heather’s comment: “Sometimes done is better than perfect.” It’s posted in my office!

  25. posted by ga on

    I took up ballet, for exercise, at the age of thirty, and did it badly for twenty years. Then I discovered Pilates, and now, ten years later, I’m pretty good at both (I approach ballet using what I’ve learned in Pilates). I’ll be in beginner ballet classes forever, but I move well, my joints feel fine, and the older you get, the more important balance practice is.

    What I’m extremely good at: copy editing (my trade) and knitting and sweater design (I spent ten years making not much money but becoming expert at knitting).

    My biggest regret: I wish I had been a cello player. In my next life . . .

  26. posted by Katie Alender on

    I started doing yoga a few months ago, and nothing is more freeing to a wannabe-perfectionist than yoga. Doing a pose correctly within your ability sometimes means you look about 10% as impressive as the person next to you.

    Accepting that is the most liberating feeling–as well as understanding that nobody is good at everything and nobody is bad at everything. For a while, every pose I thought I was good at, I was doing wrong! It’s really about being in the moment and doing what you can do as well as you can do it–and letting your expectations go.

  27. posted by Brandon Green on

    I’ve had the same frustration.

  28. posted by Jacki Hollywood Brown on

    I was just like this with another type of sport. I went back to it as an adult though with the objective just to ENJOY it, to be better than I was yesterday. “Better” could mean more relaxed, more flexible, more patient, faster, harder, higher…whatever.

    Now when I practice the sport, it is still fun and I’m only in competition with myself with my own definition of “better”.

  29. posted by Jobinana on

    Thanks for a heartfelt post, but know that you are far from alone in this. This problem is really prevalent with individualist and developed countries. We are constantly taught that we can be the best at anything, if we only put enough effort into it. Instead of motivating us to become better, this notion only burdens us with expectations of success. Sometimes the best feeling is to simply try something, instead of trying to be the best at it.

  30. posted by sunshwr on

    Wow. I do this and I don’t even think about it. That’s scary. I am as good as I need to be at uncluttering, but I keep putting off doing what I want to do in life because I might not be the best. Thanks for the wake up call!

  31. posted by AG on

    You don’t have to be the best, just do your best.

    That’s all that really matters.

  32. posted by Ally from Zwaggle on

    Thanks for this post… it really made me think about what I do and don’t do because I’m afraid of not being “the best”. And it made me realize that maybe I should just suck it up and do those things, even if I’m not great at it!

  33. posted by JJ on

    I had ulcers in elementary school over grades. The sad thing: it was internal pressure I put on myself.

    I have come far in accepting that I cannot be perfect in all things. For example, I took two years of piano lessons in late elementary school. I have small hands and can barely reach an octave with the very tips of my fingers. I now play the organ for church services on Sunday. Although I do practice, my feet and my fingers are not always in sync, and well, it’s not always a pleasant experience for the discerning ear. I have had to start over several times, and have even lost my place in the music. I still do it; I am improving; I have come to truly enjoy playing the organ; and, no one else has yet volunteered to do it.

    As said by others, done is better than not. I have a chore chart for basic chores each day. I do the minimum and if I have time, more. If not, too bad. My house is cleaner than it would be if I only cleaned when I had time to do the whole thing. If I dust twice a week, that’s still two times more a week than before.

    Although I have often been approached to sew custom garments for income, I sew strictly for my own pleasure and as gifts for others. (I do some charity mending and alteration work. If it’s free, they can’t/shouldn’t complain.) If I make a quilt and it’s a bit imperfect that’s fine. If the hand stitching on the lining of a frock is not perfectly straight, so be it. However, if someone were paying me, I would feel that things must be perfect; it would be stressful and the time required would certainly not make it worth the income.

    I think that many times we lose site of the purpose of an activity, especially a hobby or active pursuit. If we are constantly set on being perfect, how much joy have we missed along the way. Also, although we may not be the prima divas of the world, we may have missed out blessing someone else because we fail to see the good in ourselves, and thence fail to share with others.

  34. posted by india on

    my folks gave me a violin [when i was six] hoping they could churn out the next Mozart.
    the plan failed


    35 years later i got my hands on a tenor sax
    and i’m happy.
    i won’t ever be John Coltrane
    but i can make joyful music for me
    which is what counts…

  35. posted by Beverly D on

    I do fabulous counted cross stitch. Beautiful pictures of twenty shades of the same pastel color on linen that turn into gorgeous works of art. But in every single one of them is an error. No matter how hard I try not to, I always make a mistake. I call it my humility. I used to take the work apart to fix it, but unless it’s really glaring, I no longer do. Usually the only person who knows it’s there is me, and I need to know that I’m not so perfect, and most of life isn’t meant to be. So I learned the lesson that imperfect and “good enough” is the path to a happier life.

  36. posted by Emily D Gorodn on

    Wow. That was really brave.

  37. posted by Kel on

    Remember reading somewhere about a group of people – that in the beautiful loom work they do – would purposely put a mistake in it! to remind themselves that they aren’t perfect. Thought it was a neat idea, not one I plan on doing (enough mistakes happen by themselves :P) but I (mostly) no longer fuss over a minor error in my crafts, etc. anymore. It’s reduced a lot of emotional clutter and that’s a great feeling 🙂

  38. posted by Gian on

    Erin, you wrote about something unfortunately very common in the modern society. I agree to your point of view and AG’s motto is awesome!

    Nice post!

  39. posted by Hawa on

    i agree… you don’t have to be the best… i missed out on a lot of stuff as well when i was younger because of the flawed logic…

    my first love was singing not sports… but as soon aas i got into uni i became more involved in sports and found out i was not so bad at it… infact, it helped me strengthen friendships… and have fun at the same time…

  40. posted by Marie on

    Perfect is the enemy of “good enough”.

  41. posted by This is your brain on Mondays « BJJ Grrl on

    […] You don’t have to be the best […]

  42. posted by Hellen on

    Beautiful and inspiring story!

  43. posted by Sooz on

    @Kel, I heard that story in the context of people hand-knotting Persian carpets, the thinking being that “only God is perfect”. So no matter how talented they were, they would deliberately put in a mistake!

    Similar to what many others have posted, for decades I turned myself inside out in pursuit of being “perfect”, even to the point of serious physical injury in trying to be “perfect” at ballet.

    I’ve now reached the stage of life where I am absolutely willing to be mediocre at what I attempt, and that has been very freeing!

    People are shocked when I tell them that I don’t care if I’m lousy at various hobbies – it must be a violation of the upwardly-aspirant aspect of our culture – but I’m having lots more fun than I ever used to! And honestly, I am much more WILLING to try something new, now that I feel it’s okay if I suck at it for a while… or forever!

    Now I mostly do things because I enjoy doing them. Yes, I try to learn and improve as I go, but now the DOING – simply making the attempt – is more important to me than whatever skill level or outcome I may attain.

  44. posted by Jacquelyn on

    Ugh. I can so relate to this post. I am just now, at the age of 31, allowing myself to do whatever the heck I feel like doing regardless of the fact that other people are always going to be better at things than me. I think it’s terrible that I wasted so many years with a ‘why bother’ attitude because I can’t be the best at everything. I still struggle with it, but now at least I know how utterly ridiculous it is and that I’m only hurting myself with it.

  45. posted by Another Deb on

    I had a roommate in college who was a severe perfectionist. She caught a cold in early November of that year and missed one day of class. Then, because she had missed a day, she didn’t go to class the next day, feeling unprepared. Of course the third day, she was farther behind and could not show her face…Well, she never went back at all. At Winter break she dropped out and left town. All or nothing thinking at its worst!

    @Kel, I have also heard about deliberate mistakes in Amish quilts. You don’t want to insult God by being perfect. This has been a useful phrase for me. 🙂

    I remember Erin writing before that “done is better than perfect.” Thanks for reminding us that no one is perfect. One uncluttered drawer may be as perfect as my house is going to be some days, but it gives me a little bit of joy that helps me face the rest of the mess!

  46. posted by Mardi on

    Off topic but I was amused to see the deliberate mistake story here – I just told it to my husband tonight but it was in the context of my all grey cat having a small bald spot edged in white hair and her having one deliberate imperfection.

  47. posted by megg on

    Oh, my shoulders just dropped a whole two inches while I read this post. All that kept echoing in my head was ‘YES!’

    I’ve never been here before, it is very nice to meet you! Going to have a bit of a poke around!

  48. posted by Soochi on

    A big yes to the post and all the replies. Am feeling blissfully human after reading all of them.

  49. posted by Nancy on

    Thank you for this post. I think this transcends much further than just clutter and is a great reminder that even though I am not perfect in many areas, it is still worth the effort instead of giving up. A great way to start the day! Thank you.

  50. posted by Jen on

    Great post! I can see it hit a nerve with lots of people, and it really did with me. I’ve been an all or nothing declutterer — since I knew I couldn’t do it “all,” I did nothing. It drives my family crazy, but I’ve been so used to excelling at much in my life, I didn’t want to make room for doing something I knew I wouldn’t excel at.

    How silly. And what a bad lesson to teach kids. Only do something you know you’ll be best at? Sometimes, people don’t know for years, or decades, that they’re the best. Sometimes they get rejection after rejection, only to finally get their manuscript published and it sells well or gets optioned to be a movie, or it wins awards. And there’s lots of room at the top for “very good” and “excellent.”

    Your post inspired me to continue working on my issues and not give up just because I know I’ll never truly declutter — the most I can do is the “best” I can do, and that’s all I can — but should — give.

  51. posted by AM on

    @Karolina – I hate to say this, but some of what you said shows many shades of the “all or nothing” perfectionist approach that is precisely what Erin is talking about. Why did you completely “give up” piano to take ballroom dancing? Most of your skills could have been retained in 15-30 minutes a day if you gave up the idea of progress. Why is it/was it so critical emotionally that you retain the same level if it’s not your focus??

    It sounds like perfectionism talking. 😉 I’m in total agreement with Erin. I’ve given up way too much stuff thanks to the perfectionist monster in my head. I’m back at playing music again at 35 – starting over on the fiddle. I have maybe 30 minutes a day, if I’m lucky. The truth is I may never have the time or talent to achieve what I’ve heard.

    And you know what – it’s just plain fun. It’s way more fun than I’ve every had than when I was a kid. I wish someone had pulled me aside as kid and told me to lighten up.

  52. posted by When I Grow Up - The Blog » Blog Archive » Tough (Question) Tuesday: What’s a goal you’ve walked away from that you want back? on

    […] reading You Don’t Have to Be the Best on Unclutterer,  it got me thinking about all that creative joy that’s been crushed because […]

  53. posted by Anita on

    Great post, Erin!

    Wanting to be the best (or at least really really good) at something you’re putting that much passion and effort into is normal and healthy. It’s part of what drives us to constantly improve. Realising you can’t be the best is heartbreaking, but continuing in spite of it is, I think, the test of your true passion for whatever you’re doing versus your pride.

    As an amateur photographer, whenever I have to take a break from photography, getting back to it makes me feel awful, because I see just how much of my ease in handling a camera and in seeing potential shots has gone out the window during the break. Looking at other photographers’ sites is also occasionally depressing, reminding me of how perfect I’m not, and what amazing skills I don’t have. But even then, I can’t imagine ever wanting to give up, because of the joy I get out of a good shot, out of learning new techniques, and out of just being out there with a camera. So I try to take all the despondency of not being the best and channel it into motivation to keep trying, keep learning, and maybe one day become just that good.

  54. posted by Anita on

    Wow! This post really struck a chord with me. The last sentence about not comparing yourself to others is a great reminder, I’m going to have to post that some place where I see that everyday.


  55. posted by jan shivley on

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! What nice thoughts, especially for those of us who are still taking uncluttering baby steps….but I am not going to quit!
    Your realistic encouragements are wonderful!

  56. posted by Jen on

    I agree with Jobinana that this is endemic to an individualistic society; it’s also partly about a fear of failure. If I fail at something without trying hard I can always reassure myself that greater effort would have brought success. If I try my hardest and still fail, that is much harder to take.

    Reminds of my favorite innaccurate quote (J.S. Bach) – “I had to work hard. Anyone who works as hard will get just as far.”

  57. posted by Yodder on

    I haven’t a competitive bone in my body. I walked away from the high school swim team when the coach insisted I compete in a meet. I knew I wouldn’t win, and knew that my ‘effort’ would disappoint all to whom winning is desirable. The only person I’ve ever competed against is myself.

    A few years later I was taking tap – for the challenge and the joy of it – when my leg broke in an accident. It took 2 years to heal. When I finally could I immediately went back to tap class. I knew I would be terrible and was overweight and out of shape, but I made an allowance and a promise to myself: No looking in the mirror or self-judgement or comparison for the first 6 months. That was so VERY freeing. Without that contract, I would have quit within a month. I kept dancing for over 10 years, only taking time off at times it stopped being joyful.

    I do recognize that clutter is never “joyful”. But I’m a strong believer in bettering myself within my personal context; if, yesterday I cleaned for 10 minutes, today I’ll attempt 12. Doable steps trump unrealistic goals every time.

  58. posted by Michelle on

    Ugh, I am completely stalled out on a business project right now because I keep thinking about all the competition out there, many of whom have spent years doing something similar to (but not exactly like) what I plan to do.

    And you know what? During the time I’ve been putting off getting started, others have launched into the same space and done perfectly well, and are getting better every day. Which just shows that getting started is half the battle.

  59. posted by Josh Kaufman on

    Great post, Erin. Great mind think alike: I wrote a similar post yesterday, which you can find at

    It’s so liberating to free yourself from the necessity of performing at a certain level so you can focus on enjoying the situation.

  60. posted by Rachel Z Cornell on

    My very “guy like” husband offered me some of the most “sage like” advice I’ve ever gotten. He said, “Rachel, most of our unhappiness comes from when we compare ourselves to others.”

    I’m doing less comparisons than I used to but I still can be bit. Happened last week – We went out to dinner with friends and I thought I had put together a pretty cute outfit. When I saw what the other women in the group had on, I felt more like I had dressed for a night on the coach.

    I like the idea of being perfectly imperfect. When I’m at my best, I’m doing things imperfectly. When I’m doing what I love I’m at my best, I don’t care if other people are on their game too. I actually am exited that they are. It’s when we are not first attending to what makes us hum that we care if someone else is better, taller, smarter, faster than us.

  61. posted by Where Unhappiness Comes From : ProNagger on

    […] You don’t have to be the best […]

  62. posted by Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome on

    I didn’t apply for music in University because I knew I would “only” become a music teacher if I got in.

    Then again, I think that kind of language is a cover up for not being passionate about it. Perhaps you were merely continuing to dance because you had always danced and the excuse of “I’m not the best” was a way of rationalizing quitting due to a lack of passion, which would be harder to admit after so many years invested in it.

  63. posted by VJB on

    Oh my. This is so me. At the age of fourteen I gave up writing stories because if I couldn’t be the best, I didn’t want to try. Even now, I haven’t picked up my sketchbook in six months because I’m not very good at drawing.

    After years of recurring depression, I’ve come to recognise that this perfectionism has ONLY ever made me miserable. Not to imply that it was the only reason for my illness, but all-or-nothing thinking is one of the areas a therapist will help you to remedy.

    This post was a good reminder. I’m going to go get my sketchbook.

  64. posted by perfection | dailycoffeeandcream on

    […] Thanks Erin! Here’s a link to the original post. […]

  65. posted by Vanessa on

    I was the same way. When I was in the 3rd grade in New York City, a ballet school came to my school to audition all the 3-5th graders for a program that allows students at public schools to attend their dance school for free two times a week, replacing regular classes for those days. I was one of four kids that were admitted into their program, and I loved it. It was a really great company, Gregory Hines was a director, and it was a lot of fun.

    I did ballet for six years after that, but after my 8th grade recital, I gave it up. I loved ballet so much, but when I moved upstate, I went to a new dance school and was never allowed in the intermediate program, only the adult beginners. I was in the beginners program for 4 years, and I always thought I just wasn’t good enough to get into the higher class. Eventually, I just gave it up.

    I really wish I had kept going, because it was something I loved doing. It’s one of the few things I regret in my life.

  66. posted by CC on

    Totally on board with the “good enough” attitude. I have a range of interests and talents, but I am no expert at any of them.

    Last night was a great example: I constructed a baby sling for my partner – she couldn’t use the other baby carrier we have since the fit was too large. So I sewed one similar to a product retailing online and at brick-and-mortars for $100, at a third of the price. I won’t be on Project Runway but can sew some things if need be.

    Love to bike, but I am slow. Love photography, but sometimes feel perplexed with the whole process. But, I keep on doing it because it gives me enjoyment. I like to surf and snowboard, but I am not the most agile nor coordinated. I have some basic skills in the kitchen, but will not be anything like a Top Chef.

    I keep doing those things because I am “good enough” to get feel satisfied with my efforts.

  67. posted by It doesn’t have to be perfect « on

    […] a parent has made me have to learn this.  Because kids make it harder to be a perfectionist.   Like this article says, don’t give up on something just because you can’t do it perfectly.  Often I have been […]

  68. posted by Simona on

    Erin, I feel exactly the same most of my life! I want to be an animal activist, a bass player, a student, a perfect employee and to be remarkable in everything I do. Most of the times I don’t even start what I’d love to to try because I know someone will do it better! So my mind begins to be cluttered, instead of my house and this is really overwhelming. But I think I’ll be more frustrated if I fail in something I try instead of not trying at all. Is a remorse worst than a regret?

  69. posted by myra on

    Here’s a quote I find helpful (I’ve posted it above my desk as a reminder):

    “Use what talents you possess – the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there but those who sang best.”

    -William Blake

  70. posted by Jenn on

    Great post, and so true.

  71. posted by The Simple Dollar » The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Places to Follow Me Edition on

    […] You Don’t Have to Be the Best I know some people who are driven to be “the best” in every aspect of their life. Usually, they’re either incredibly stressed or things eventually fall completely apart. Instead of being “the best” at everything, choose one or two things and be “good enough” at the rest. (@ unclutterer) […]

  72. posted by Better Than Magic » Blog Archive » On Perfectionism on

    […] had another post planned for this evening, but by chance I happened upon this post at Unclutterer. It is brief, but the author illustrates an important idea with a simple story. When […]

  73. posted by Return of the Daily Links | Follow My Money - Financial Advicer, Money Management, Debt Free Tips on

    […] Erin at Unclutterer (one of my favorite blogs) recently made a brilliant case for why you don’t have to be the best. “Comparing yourself to another person is unnecessary,” she writes. “You only […]

  74. posted by Lana on

    This is truly funny, because I had the opposite experience I want to share it with you.

    When I was in college as an English major, I took an entry-level ballet class. All the other girls were dance majors or minors, and had been dancing for years. I was clumsy and big, not graceful at all, or even particularly flexible. Going to class was overwhelming at first – I was shamed that I wasn’t very good. And then, I realized that no one else cared. Because I wasn’t a dance major or minor, no one even took much notice of me. Knowing that I was easily the worst dancer there, and that it didn’t matter one bit, freed me to enjoy the process of dancing without feeling too self-conscious.

    But thank you for this entry. You’re right, of course – we shouldn’t care whether we’re the best or not, only what we get out of it.

  75. posted by More Lessons in Perfectionism on

    […] Unclutterer: Sometimes done is better than […]

  76. posted by When I Grow Up - The Blog » Blog Archive » Link Love: August 2009 on

    […] You don’t have to be the best on unclutterer […]

  77. posted by Play in Progress on

    Oh my, I nearly cried when I read this, and the comments. So much of my story there, too—the disappointment and pain over not being, or not really having a shot at ever being “the best” after all, as well as the liberating feeling and fun that can be had when doing something although you know you suck at it, simply because it is fun anyway. I wish I could have that swagger in everything. Life would be so much fun! Maybe I’ll get there, sometime. Or maybe just getting a bit closer is enough…

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