Embracing Imperfection: A Halloween Tale

By October 28, 2013June 29th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
Embracing Imperfection: A Halloween Tale

This post has been repurposed from one of our personal weekly emails of exclusive content for subscribers. Although we generally don’t republish that content here (subscribe if you want more of the good stuff!), I got great feedback on this one and a lot of encouragement to share it farther and wider. So here it is. I hope it entertains and inspires you!

Holidays always bring me back to my childhood when everything was larger than life and the shape of one jack-o-lantern could make or break the whole year…

Which reminds me of The Year Without A Jack-O-Lantern, and I want to share it with you.

I was probably about twelve years old (ie: old enough to know better) and things had been hectic that year, so instead of the yearly hunt for The Perfect Pumpkin happening sometime in early October, we didn’t end up going out to buy one until the day before Halloween.

My mom packed us up in the car (there were three… or maybe four? of us at the time) and headed down to the local nursery where we had bought our pumpkins before.

But there was a problem that year. Since we’d waited so long, the only pumpkins left were the squished, oblong ones and the dented ones and the lopsided ones.

And the problem was that we wanted the perfect pumpkin.

It had to be round.

It had to be symmetrical.

It had to have the perfect stem so you could pull the top off like a lid and pop a candle inside.

So you can imagine the mayhem that ensued when several children, very used to getting The Perfect Pumpkin, discovered only imperfect ones.

We whined. We complained. We insisted on going somewhere else to find a better pumpkin.

I should mention at this point that my mother is a saint and a goddess and probably a little crazy, because she packed us all back up in the car, seat belts, car seats and all, and hiked us another five miles to the next nursery.

Do you want to guess what we found there?

I’ll give you a hint: NOT The Perfect Pumpkin.

We whined. We yelled. We insisted on trying someplace else because the Halloween festivities could simply not commence without that pumpkin.

I’ll tell you, my mother went to heroic lengths that day to appease three (or four?) extremely demanding, spoiled kids and make sure that they had The Perfect Halloween.

She drove us around for hours, to every nursery, roadside vegetable stand and supermarket in a 30 mile radius.

For naught, I might add, because there was nary a Perfect Pumpkin to be found.

And so do you know what we did?

We went home without one.

That’s right, we refused to accept anything less than perfect and so we had no pumpkin at all that year. No carving party. No jack-o-lantern. No candles.

The younger ones cried. I was too old for that, so I sulked horribly.

Halloween was RUINED! (Yes, we did say that. Ruined.)

I think my mom was ready to leave us all at the next roadside stand by the end, but to her great credit, she managed to pull off Halloween anyway (and have two more kids after that, so you see why I call her a bit crazy).

The funny thing is that I hardly remember any of our jack-o-lanterns, but I will always remember the year without one.

And so we come to the point.

Which, if you haven’t guessed by now is this: perfection sucks.

Or, to be a little more elegant about it, perfection is unattainable, unnecessary and unforgiving.

It will hang you up every time.

When it comes to your business and marketing, if you’re stuck in a perfection mindset, you’re going to end up just like us, crying about everything being ruined and then going home with nothing.

You’ll never get anything done – heck, you may never even get anything started. You’ll always be waiting for “the perfect time” (or its just-as-debilitating cousin “a better time”).

Instead of celebrating your successes you’ll be calculating the millimeters that you were off the mark.

Instead of trying new things, making mistakes and learning, you’ll be limited to only doing what you know works (which, when it comes to business and marketing, is a whole lot of not much!)

And I guarantee you’ll have a lot less fun.

Since The Great Pumpkin Debacle, I’ve learned to embrace imperfection.

Nowadays, I go straight for imperfection right out of the gate. I buy the crookedest, dented-est, most lopsided pumpkins I can find and enjoy playing with them and experimenting to see what kind of beautiful or interesting (or even uniquely ugly) thing I can make out of them.

When it comes to marketing, I make mistakes first, ask questions later. And oh, I make mistakes! But you know what I’ve found? It’s a lot easier to make mistakes early, and realize they’re not going to kill you, than to try to be as perfect as possible and live in constant angst in anticipation of the day something goes wrong.

So today I want you to stop what you’re doing for a second, and think about what you’re NOT doing because you want it to be perfect. Or because you’re waiting for “the right” time. Or a better time. Or any other time at all. Or until you get it just right. Or better. Or whatever hurdle you’ve constructed in your mind about why something is “not good enough” or not “ready”.

Think about that thing, and then imagine it in a field of pumpkins. If it’s the squishiest, crookedest one there, then grab it and run with it!

Create something.

Do something.

Don’t wait for perfect or even close.

Now tell me in the comments what that thing is and how you’re going to embrace it right now. Let me know how I can help you!

Join the discussion 24 Comments

  • Katherine Kotaw says:

    Love your imperfect pumpkin story and your message to stop worrying about perfection and to just carve right in! This blog of yours made me smile so wide because it’s so similar to my last two blogs so I think we must have a kindred connection that goes beyond getting frustrated by rudeness in social media! I’m going to share them with you on Google+ so you can see the uncanny similarities 🙂 Here here to doing and creating without trying to be perfect, or even close to perfect!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Yah, glad you liked it! I have a tough perfectionist nut in my brain that I attempt to crack every single day 🙂 So it’s an ongoing effort but it pays to remind ourselves that sometimes good enough is GOOD ENOUGH! Can’t wait to see your posts! Definitely tag me and let me know.

      • Katherine Kotaw says:

        And I can’t wait to show them to you…but our server lost one of them about a minute after I wrote to you. I’ll tag you as soon as both are available. Today is definitely not a day of perfection!

  • Hi Carol Lynn

    Loved the story and I agree your mother was a saint. I know there are times I have not started something because it wasn’t perfect. I also have not walked away when I should have, because I am also not a quitter. The two evils of perfection I guess!

    Since you got a great lesson from the experience, it got my curiosity up as to how your siblings might have also possibly learned the lesson. Things or disappointments usually triumph over things that go well and therein we learn what will serve us better in life.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Mary

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Hi Mary,

      You made a really interesting point about quitting. It’s funny you mentioned that because I didn’t think about it that way before but it instantly reminded me of all those crummy books I’ve reads because once I start a book… I have to finish it! Definitely part of the perfectionist curse 🙂

      I have no idea what my siblings think (or remember) except for one, who just laughs about how silly we were. I would say he is probably case of recovering perfectionism too! But now I will have to go back and ask them. Sounds like a brilliant idea for another post 🙂

  • Gazalla Gaya says:

    Loved your story and the deeper message underlying the story. Also love the graphic – perfect! I’d love to embrace imperfection, and because I make plenty of mistakes, I always try to climb out of them a little bit wiser. My question to you is how do you deal with clients that demand perfection all the time?

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I asked my brother for a photo of a pumpkin we carved and that was as “imperfect” as we could find 🙂

      You asked a million dollar question. So let’s see… depending on the client and their disposition, you could try a “perfection is going to cost more” approach (you know, for clients who want 500 changes). Or you could try turning it around on them and asking them what they need to see before something is considered “done”. Or just basically try a “no such thing” approach. We drill the word “iterative” into our clients’ heads all the time. You take a step, then another step, and keep going because marketing is never done. *Nothing* is ever done, so you keep improving. It’s definitely a challenge. Sounds like a whole new post!

  • Awesome post, Carol 🙂

    (Awesome story, by the way. Powerful message delivered in a powerful story :D).

    I do agree with your thought about perfection being unattainable (although a part of me does believe it is possible, since I do believe in possibilities. But, I like to, and want to, believe that perfect is not possible).

    Blogging is what that changed my thinking. Trying to be perfect or achieve perfect is both a waste of time and money (losing money is okay..but time is too valuable!).

    Mistakes. Yes, I do love making mistakes. I find it easier to learn when I make mistakes. Take for instance: a mid-term test. I tend to remember my mistakes, which ones I got wrong, and why I got wrong. It has helped me a lot 😉

    Anyways, thank you for sharing the story, Carol 🙂 And Happy Halloween!

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Thank you, Jeevan, I appreciate your kind words! I’m glad you liked the story. Although I do believe in possibilities, I think the idea of a “perfect” possibility is a little tough to come by! I know exactly what you mean about making mistakes and then remembering. It’s one of the best ways to learn, even if it’s not always the most fun. It’s tough to make mistakes and lose out (even when it comes to grades on tests) but in the long run it’s all about learning and growing. Hope you enjoyed your Halloween, too!

      • Yes, same here. But, I believe there is a slight chance that it may exist (believing in possibilities has helped me to be open towards all ideas – despite what I may think of it. You know, respect everyone’s opinions. It also helps with debates/discussions, helps me to see through the “eyes” of my “opponent”).

        Agreed.

        It was good 😀 I hope you had a wonderful time!

  • Sylviane Nuccio says:

    Lovely post, Carol.

    Thankfully I’ve never been a perfectionist that way, and I’ll just go ahead and experience imperfection. Perfection can be a pure poison and I’ve seen people paralyzed while looking for or waiting for perfection which never came.

    It really made me laugh that you kids went back home with no pumpkin at all rather than a less perfect one, especially after your mom drove you around for so many miles. Mothers are incredible, aren’t they?

    If I had waited until I could write perfectly to write at all I’d still be waiting. That’s what I was thinking while reading your post.

    Great share and perfect for the season 🙂

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      That’s one thing I envy you for a bit, and that’s how completely practical you are about everything! No hangups about perfectionism or crazy things for you 🙂

      If I had to wait to be “perfect” I would sit here all day doing nothing. And yes, we did go home without a pumpkin, can you believe it? My poor, patient mother. But a good lesson! Thanks for reading!

  • Louise Myers says:

    Fabulous Carol, and I needed this!

  • Hi Carol Lynn,

    I have been down that road, pumpkin-wise and life-wise. Perfection is an illusion. We are who we are and we get what we can get.

    Be happy with what you have. Strive to help more people with the skills and resources you have. Then let go.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  • Frederic Gonzalo says:

    A nice breath of fresh air, Carol Lynn. Thank you for that! Indeed, I agree with you – it’s better to push on that “Publish” button when 85-90% satisfied than waiting for the perfect, Pulitzer-level quality some expect from every post we publish as bloggers, for example.
    Same goes with marketing. I’ve done some campaigns where I wasn’t totally happy with the creative or some aspects of the campaign, but in real life, you don’t get the chance to always negotiate with time limits, budgets constraints and other challenges. So perfection is rarely an option.

    We should all strive for it, but should not feel emprisoned by it… 🙂
    Cheers,

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      I think when it comes to our own businesses, we are NEVER 100% satisfied with what we produce! We always think it could be a little better. But it’s a trap! We will never be perfect, especially when we’re our own worst critics. We have to put something out into the world and then act on the feedback.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Adrienne says:

    Thank goodness I’m not a perfectionist. We didn’t do pumpkins either thank goodness because I know my sister would have been the bitchy one not getting her way. My Mom is also not a saint (okay in those terms anyway) and would have said it’s this one or none at all. Guess that’s why I am the way I am…

    You’re right though, nothing is ever going to be perfect. Even when you try so hard it might end up okay but just run with it. Trust me, I’ve found it’s just much better that way.

    Great tail and you’re so good at that Carol. Bravo girl and Happy Halloween.

    ~Adrienne

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Thanks Adrienne! I bet you have less trouble fighting off perfectionism because your mom said “too bad. deal with it!” I think we were too spoiled, that’s for sure. There is way too much to do, to worry about getting it all perfect!

  • SJ Scott says:

    I was looking for a “Halloween Tale” to start my morning off right and what a good one. Thanks for telling an interesting story with a great moral.

    Perfection is fairly impossible, and not something that really should be strived for. Mistakes happen, and while it sucks to fail mistakes and failures are simply the best ways to learn, grow and make real improvement.

    Far better than being immobilized by some ellusive hopes of perfection.

    Happy Halloween!

    Steve

    • Carol Lynn Rivera says:

      Well I’m so glad I could start your morning right! And I hoped you enjoyed your Halloween 🙂 Mistakes aren’t fun but thy do help us learn and grow. I think instead of teaching kids to find the right answers, maybe we should be teahing them how to be wrong!