Stop Being a Perfectionist About Your Motivations

I was sitting in late night traffic stopped at ain intersection when the man started running toward me.

It’s always disconcerting when someone starts running in your direction. It’s even more disconcerting when they burst out of a gas station clutching something and looking back a few times.

I admit it – I froze up. I didn’t think of what to do. Should I try to obstruct the man? Should I call police? How could I know this person’s guilt, and what kind of danger would I be in if I got out of my car to block him?

The running man got away, but I did decide to go into the gas station to see if the store was robbed and if the attendant was OK. Fortunately, he was OK, and no, they had not been robbed. Of course, that only adds to the mystery of the running man, but that’s now besides the point.

I thought about this experience and why I made myself (against my desire for a convenient, uninterrupted night) stop to check in on the gas station. Was it because I was deeply concerned about the gas station attendant’s wellbeing? Was it because I was hoping to do the right, noble thing to protect society from robbing ruffians running amok? (Sorry, I get carried away sometimes).

All of these would be what I (concsiously at least) would consider the “right reasons” and motivations to act.

Unfortunately I didn’t have noble motivations. I just knew I would think less of myself if I didn’t stop to check. So I checked out of duty.

If I was the kind of person who just moved on with their night, I might stop at chiding myself for my less than noble motivations. I’m not that kind of person. Tonight I managed to catch myself being a perfectionist about my motivations.

You’ve been there before.

“Yes, I wrote a novel. But I only did that to impress my friends.”

“Sure, I ran a marathon, but I only did that because my brother asked me to, and I didn’t want to let him down.”

“I only saved that person’s life because my instincts and training kicked in.” 

These are all reasons to feel inferior about doing something great.

First of all, they’re lies. If you did something big enough to require special motivation, odds are that you found your reason to love that thing. False reasons rarely last through to a task’s end.

More importantly, you should be glad that you *did* anything at all.

Consider tonight. How many people saw that running man and didn’t bother to stop to see ? 9 out of 10 cars. By acting, we’ve already done the right thing, regardless of our motivations.

What if we were (like me) jerks to ourselves for not having the “right” motivations?

The same thing would happen that happens with all perfectionism: nothing.

Analysis of motives and analysis of quality can be useful, but do it after you’ve acted. Too many good things have been left undone because they did not meet a perfect standard. Too many people have shied away from doing a good act because they didn’t feel that they and their motivations were equal to it.

Do the good thing, even if you’re doing it from the worst place. Once you’ve conquered the task from one motivation, maybe then you can act from the better place.

I know a bit more for next time about how I’ll react when I think a gas station might have been robbed. Maybe when the time comes I’ll know enough to respond from a place of strength.

Photo by nic on Unsplash

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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