Perfectionism is an awesome thing in theory. It produces work with exceptional results, delivered well, with few if any errors. At least, that’s the promise. The reality is something altogether different. Perfectionism is frustrating, can be debilitating and is more often than not exhausting. Behind the striving for excellence is the anxiety of not quite being good enough, of not measuring up and clearing the bar. That has a number of negative consequences, not just for the perfectionist, but for those around them. Moving past it requires understanding first off where perfectionism comes from and why it exists.
How we think about work is challenging. And how we do that work is more challenging still. When the work we are doing is creative and uncertain—where we are the author and motivating force of what gets produced—success is often judged externally. We don’t have an effective, objective way of evaluating the quality of what we’ve done. Ultimately, we rely on the subjective assessment of those for whom we have done the work. That’s a hard thing to do, and many of us have developed work strategies that make it even harder.
All too often, we just show up in our work. We do what’s required, we fall back on old patterns, and we replicate what has worked for us in the past. That’s not bad, per se. Evolution wired us to do that, after all. At the same time, it’s not all that meaningful. And it very often doesn’t reconcile with what we know we’re truly capable of.
Our approach and attitudes toward perfection gets in the way of doing the work that we need, and the work that is value. Finding the optimal outcome of ‘good enough.’
When we are faced with large and uncertain projects, we often become entirely overwhelmed. And the larger the project, the more creative our forms of procrastination. Strategies to tackle the most important problems of all.
Why do we obsess about—and in fact embrace—notions of eternal busy-ness? That was the question that was raised in the first article in this series. One aspect that I outlined was the role that technology has played in providing constant access to near-ubiquitous information. This article continues those themes, exploring our eternal obsession with improvement.