Are you consumed with “perfection” or progress?

At some point in my high school career, my mindset shifted from enjoying life to craving acceptance. I started trying to look perfect. I didn’t want to look like I had to work hard for good grades. I changed up what brands of clothes I wore. And I tried my best to “fit in.”

I became obsessed with wanting to look good for the right people so I’d be considered “cool” among my classmates.

What starts as a desire to fit in with others can quickly become a trap. I avoided classes that could challenge me intellectually because I didn’t want to look nerdy or jeopardize my chance at an easy “A.” I cared more about how I looked then about how I got better.

This trend continued in college, when after getting my butt handed to me my first semester by an Economics class, I changed majors from business to journalism. I told friends that I felt this different focus would help me more in my dream career, but honestly, it was because I was afraid of looking dumb in business classes after struggling with basic Economics.

We’ve created a culture that screams, “Don’t stand out. Don’t look like you’re trying too hard. And whatever you do, don’t do something unless you’re great at it.” Through the growing use of social media and more political divide, our society is screaming to fit in and don’t you dare do something to stand out unless it goes well.

It screams that failure or trying something new is pointless if it’s going to be sloppy.

Most of us are listening to that scream.

We don’t post pictures or videos online unless we’ve edited them 500 times. We avoid trying anything new because we fear what “others will think if we struggle.” We certainly don’t switch careers because what would someone say about someone our age looking like a 22-year-old rookie?

Our obsession with perfection derails our ability to grow into better.

Your first is going to suck.

I cringe when looking at pictures of Compete Every Day from 2011. Everything from the photoshoots to our designs, tradeshow booths to social media graphics embarrasses me. It took a number years to consistently remind myself that having a first that sucks is simply part of the process to get better.

We all start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be pretty, in fact, most times it won’t be. But you can’t create something you’re proud of until you just start creating something. That polished 100th step won’t arrive until you trip taking the first one.

Waiting until the “perfect time” will keep you waiting forever.

Holding off until everything is absolutely perfect will have you holding until you’re dead.

The only way to build something good in your career, health, or life is to simply take action. Take that ugly, messy first step so you can take a slightly better second one.

If we know our first step is going to suck then we might as well get it over with, right? It’s no surprise when we stumble, so we expect it and know that we’re going to get better with each attempt.

Knowing the first step is ugly is important, but it’s not the most important we can focus on.

What’s most important to you?

You can care about looking perfect. You can focus on winning the approval of strangers online. You can invest your time into making sure every “t” is crossed and “i” dotted in everything you do before you start.

Or you can care only about getting better.

Only one of these two things will get you closer to actually succeeding. The starting line of life is filled with people fixing their hair and taking selfie after selfie in an attempt to get the perfect image. It’s backlogged with those looking at their watches, waiting for a perfect time to start running.

Every single one of those people will wait their entire life at the starting line, failing to ever run the race before them because they craved looking perfect before taking action.

But life doesn’t award medals for how good you look at the starting line. It awards them for how strong you run the race.

Is worrying what your teammates will say about you working with a tutor more important than actually learning the subject material you’re struggling with?

Is looking perfect on social media right now more important than learning how to be great on video in the big picture?

Is turning down opportunities to present at your company because you’re afraid you’ll say “like” and “umm” more important to your career than establishing yourself as an indispensable leader in your organization?

Pick one.

Embracing the process of growth is about choosing to focus on how you can get better today over worrying about what others might think. To thrive as a Competitor, one must learn how to care about simply showing up to do better in their work, relationships and life more than they care about winning the approval of everyone. They know by focusing on their growth, they’re putting themselves in a position to win in the big picture, regardless of how sloppy it may appear in the immediate.

You can care what everyone else thinks of you or you can care about getting better. But you can’t do both.