Human beings have two fundamental emotional needs:
- We want to be connected to other people.
- We want to know that what we're doing with our time matters.
We want to know that we make a difference.
We want close personal relationships while we're on this planet and we want to make a contribution that outlasts our stay on it.
The problem is that we often confuse purpose with perfection.
For example, raising healthy, high-character children is a purpose. Having children who are dressed perfectly at all times sets you up for endless frustration.
Being a great boss who helps people develop new skills is a purpose. Trying to be the one who never makes a mistake at work is unrealistic. It stifles your creativity and undermines decision-making.
We often believe that we're stressed because of myriad demands on our time. But after a decade of working with organizations and individuals around the globe, I've discovered that lack of purpose is actually the root cause for much of our stress.
Here's why: When you don't have a larger purpose, it's difficult to prioritize. You feel like you have to do everything perfectly. So before you know it, your life becomes a series of meaningless to-do's.
When you have a larger purpose -- be it raising productive citizens or making a difference in your job -- you have a filter to help you prioritize. It enables you to determine what's important and, equally critical, what's not important.
If want to raise high-character children, dinner conversation is more important, table linens are not.
If you want to help your team provide better customer service, creating a positive work environment is more important than harping on clerical mistakes.
The reason we get confused about purpose vs. perfection is because we've bought into the myth. I first spotted this problem and gave voice to it over a decade ago when I wrote "Forget Perfect."
We tend to believe that if we make our lives look like some staged magazine photo spread, we'll be happy. But nothing could be further from the truth.
When you're trying to make everything perfect, you wind up running around like a gerbil on a treadmill. The endless to-do list in your head keeps you from engaging with the very people you care about.
Not being fully present isn't just a problem at home. It's a problem at work too.
One of the issues I see in a lot of the corporations I consult with is that the employees don't have a larger sense of purpose. A paycheck is nice, but when people don't have a sense of purpose about their work, they're not as productive and they're more likely to disengage.
For example, the people at Apple live and breathe to make cool stuff. The people at Microsoft just seem to want to make more money. Whose employees do you think enjoy their jobs more?
Letting go of perfection doesn't mean lowering your standards, it means raising them. Raising them for what really matters, and putting happiness, love and purpose at the top of your list.
You already know what's important to you. We all do.
The question you need to ask yourself is, do you want to spend your time trying to create a Kodak moment that looks perfect for everybody else?
Or do you want to focus on what really matters to you?
Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod specializes in sales force and leadership development. She is author of "The Triangle of Truth," a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book.