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Don’t Smash Your Cookie

Many years ago I had a huge Aha! moment while I was reading a story in one of Stephen Covey’s books.  The lesson that I learned from it has stayed with me since that day, and I have used it countless times to remind myself to keep things in perspective, especially when things aren’t going the way I had hoped.

The other week when I was thinking about the whole keeping resolutions thing, this story came leaping into my mind, and I wanted to share it with you.  Since I couldn’t find the exact story, I’m paraphrasing.  Undoubtedly I will butcher it from the original, and apologies in advance to the dearly departed Dr. Covey, who I had the absolute honor of meeting a few years ago.  I fear I was a bit like a giggling school girl as I waited excitedly to be introduced, but he took it all in his stride as I tried to compose myself and have a meaningful conversation.  Maybe I’ll post the picture.  You won’t recognize me, but I can assure you that it was indeed me grasping the poor man’s hand like he was pulling me out of the ocean into a life raft.  Meeting a life-long hero is a magical thing.

The Aha! story went something like this:

On the countertop in the cheery kitchen there was a cookie jar with some cookies in it.  The five children of the family came racing in the door after school and headed straight for the jar.  The 4 oldest children got there first and each took a cookie.  The smallest, youngest child brought up the rear and put his hand into the jar to find one cookie left.  As the small boy reached for it he noticed that it had a small piece missing.  Distraught at getting an imperfect cookie he wailed, “My cookie is all broken!” before grabbing it and hurling it on the floor, smashing it into several pieces and rendering it inedible.

Now granted, I hope that as adults we wouldn’t react that way if we found the only {grain-free, sugar-free} cookie left had a few crumbs missing, but the first time I read this I realized that I have done essentially this same thing over and over again when things haven’t been perfect.  Not literally hurled stuff on the floor and smashed it, you understand, but I do have a tendency to take my perfectionist streak (what me??  never!!) to levels that – looking back – have actually hindered my progress or joy, rather than advanced them.  And very often it’s been over things that  aren’t really important – like cookies.

I was reminded of this story when I was building my new kitchen and attached one of the cabinet door handles slightly out of alignment.  When I say ‘slightly out of alignment’ I mean it was so slight you’d have to know it to notice it.  But for a while there, instead of being totally stoked and terribly proud that I had built and installed an entire kitchen, and successfully attached dozens of other door handles in exactly the right place, I lost the joy in my enormous accomplishment and was so disappointed I hadn’t built a perfect kitchen.  No matter the fact that I had never built or installed a kitchen before, never drilled through cabinet doors to attach handles, and had no idea what I was doing when I started.  Friends would come over to see the new kitchen and as they “oooh’d” and “ahhh’d” I would invariably point out my handle failing.  They would just stare at me and say, “What is wrong with you??”  After several weeks of obsessing over my one handle failure I realized how completely crazy that thinking was.  My kitchen is gorgeous, slightly out of alignment handle and all.

Here’s another story from the it-has-to-be-perfect files.  For years I was reluctant to invite anyone over to my house unless it resembled a Pottery Barn store.  If the whole house wasn’t perfect there was no-one coming through that door.  One day I had a dear friend coming down from Canada to stay for a week.  I got so stressed about him seeing my house that it became tangible.  Shortly before he was due to arrive we were video-chatting over Skype and he asked me what was up.  I shared with him that my house wasn’t perfect and I was really stressed about him seeing it.  Never a man of many words, he just looked at me and said, “I am coming to see you, not your house”.  These days I always remember that comment when I feel myself getting antsy about someone coming over and seeing a pillow out of place or a kitty nose smudge on the window.  Miss out on the joy of spending time with someone I care about because my house isn’t perfect?  Doh.

So when I was thinking about keeping resolutions it occurred to me that many of us, metaphorically speaking, hurl our cookies on the floor and smash them when we stumble.  We have this “I’ve broken my resolution so I may as well just give up now”, or “I wasn’t perfect today so I’ve ruined any chance I have of reaching my goal”, or any number of variations on “I’m just not good enough”, “I’m broken”, “I’m a failure”.  We lose the joy and pride of what we have accomplished so far.  We throw away all the work we have done up to that point, slink away to lick our wounds, and maybe even console ourselves with crazy unhealthy comfort food while feeling like complete failures.

Crazy, huh?

So the next time you aren’t perfect, you have a difficult day, or you slip up on a resolution you made or goal you set – don’t smash your cookie.  Revel in the progress you have made – even if it wasn’t quite as far as you had planned.  Feel the joy of success – even if you weren’t perfect this time.  Know that you are not a failure because you were slightly out of alignment one day.  Know that you can just pick up and keep moving towards your goal right now.

Slipped on some of your resolutions or goals for this year?  Don’t smash your cookie!



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  • ardysWhat a great reminder, Carrie. When I had a new kitchen installed over 4 years ago, it was not perfect either. But it is gorgeous, and the best kitchen I’ve ever owned. When I see the imperfections I am reminded of the American Indians who used to put a small imperfection in their weavings, to remind them of human imperfection. If we were perfect we would be ‘Deity’. Thank you. I have been mostly SANE for a year this month and I forget sometimes the long road it has been to get here. xReplyCancel

  • David WilliamsThat’s pretty sweet for all us perfectionists Carrie!

    I have been having a hard time losing weight despite eating Sanely and low carb etc I had just plateaued for seemingly months and was getting discouraged but persistence pays off and it seems my fat cells are again however reluctantly surrendering fat to be burned and the scales have started shifting again. In times like this it’s as well to remember how far you have come and being consistent/not getting discouraged/falling off the wagon/smashing your cookies because the universe isn’t fair this month.

    Thanks for the reminder.ReplyCancel

  • WrenThanks for sharing your “character flaw” of perfectionism. I’m sure it resonates with many. Allowing our flaws to be visible, and sharing them with others, is such a blessing, actually. It shows others that none of us are perfect and we all have things about us that aren’t perfect, even if trying to be perfect is one of those things.

    One of my resolutions is to be more transparent myself, instead of always having a facebook (my-life-is-so-perfect) happy face. If I’m able to help others and potentially change their lives by example and advice, then they have to be able to relate to me.ReplyCancel

  • Michelle GoldsmithThank you, once again, for sending me a link to a story I really needed to hear just now… Michelle G [An American in Derbyshire]ReplyCancel

  • Tami HolleyFrom one perfectionist to another- thanks for this reminder.  And yes. you have a gorgeous kitchen!  It’s even more beautiful knowing you built it yourself.  I’m not that brave.  I would have sat back and admired my work for months!  Why don’t I admire my success thus far in my journey?  I’ve got to rewire my brain to be more positive.  Great illustration!ReplyCancel

    • carrieTami – it’s interesting how the grace we give others we rarely give to ourselves. Give yourself the grace you deserve today!ReplyCancel

  • Barbara EndersThank you Carrie! I am prone to smashing cookies and I thank you for reminding me that I’m still ok and doing well.ReplyCancel