“Perfectionism is self destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.” BrenÃ© Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
1. Burden of Perfectionism
Perfectionism fuels procrastination, stress, fear, and crippling anxiety. It leads to feeling overwhelmed by the thought of starting a new project.
You feel compelled to find the perfect strategy before embarking on a project. You conduct endless research. You consume all the information you can get your hands on about the project. You splinter your attention and focus in a thousand directions instead of taking the first simple step. You leave no stone unturned before you start the project.
You strive to remove all uncertainty related to the outcome before you lift off. Risk and uncertainty can be reduced to increase the odds of success. However, most dreams in life carry a large dose of uncertainty that can’t be eliminated.
This mindset isn’t conducive to making meaningful progress. You learn exponentially more through experience than passively consuming information without applying it. Experience is a masterful teacher.
When you undertake an endeavor, you do not allow yourself to stop working until it’s perfect. You make changes until you feel the end product can’t be improved. You place a paralyzing burden of perfection on yourself.
You focus on the mountain ahead. You dread the substantial volume of work you will perform as you chisel away at the project until perfection. You worry, stress, and agonize over whether you’ll ever reach the distant summit of your dreams.
You feel relentless pressure as a result of not giving yourself permission to make mistakes. A perfectionist walks through life with 100 pound weights on each shoulder. You constantly carry the weight of perfectionism, from one project to the next.
A perfectionist doesn’t squeeze out the lessons contained in failures. Each failure is an opportunity to learn and improve if you have a growth mindset. If you ask productive questions after failures, you turn them into your greatest teachers. What would I do differently next time? Where did the project break down? What can I learn from this?
A perfectionist obsesses on the end result instead. You mentally beat yourself up over not producing the desired outcome. The perfectionist mindset prevents you from looking at the situation from the most advantageous angle.
2. Cost of Perfectionism
I’ve been a perfectionist my entire life. It led to an almost perfect GPA in high school and college. It led to a full ride for college paid by scholarships. It led to career success and promotions. It has driven me towards achievement and accomplishment throughout my life.
Perfectionism is hard to kick because it produces results. It supplies fuel that propels you to put in the thousands of hours of work required to succeed for the biggest life goals. However, perfectionism isn’t a free ride towards your dream life. It carries psychological baggage.
My perfectionism came with a side of anxiety, stress, and constant worry. I agonized over every mistake. I replayed the failures in my mind on a loop.
The weight of perfectionism led to procrastination in my work and personal life. I put off starting many projects over the years. I dreaded the amount of work and struggle it would take to complete projects to my level of satisfaction. I felt that I had to create a masterpiece every time. It was a grind. I succeeded despite the friction that my mindset created.
I dreamed of a road to success without the heavy price charged by perfection.
3. The Power of Good Enough
I consider myself a recovering perfectionist after years of chipping away at my perfectionism by adjusting my work habits and mentality. I’ll never be fully cured.
I regularly battle my perfectionist tendencies. Just a few years ago, I didn’t realize I had the option to say NO to perfection. Today, I usually win the battle using the lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I shifted my mindset. I realized that every project doesn’t need to be finished at a 100% quality level. It frees me to focus on the task ahead instead of the end result. It’s a huge burden off my shoulders to know that 80% is good enough. I don’t have to hit the perfection target every time I step up to the plate.
80% to perfection is better than 0%. It’s better to finish a project with flaws and mistakes than to procrastinate for years.
There are additional benefits to targeting 80%. It takes a significant amount of effort to improve the end product from 80% to 90%. Usually, the marginal time and effort outweigh the value gained from that additional 10% of quality. The cost-benefit analysis leads to the conclusion that 80% meets the needs of the project.
Perfectionism should be reserved for the most important goals that produce disproportionate, massive results. I’ve learned to reserve being surgically precise, methodical, and meticulous for the highest leverage projects.
The perfectionist says, “I need to produce great work without any mistakes or errors. It has to be just right.”
The better strategy is to treat the first pass of the project as a practice run. You will edit and review your work several times before it’s final. When you embrace this mentality, the first pass carries a low level of pressure.
You start the project with peace of mind knowing that the product will improve significantly in the second and third passes. This mindset allows you to make progress quickly as you work with a clear mind that’s not burdened by perfection.
When you transform your mindset from perfectionism to growth and improvement, you enjoy the process. If your standard is perfection, you will disappoint yourself continually; it’s not attainable.
If your standard is continuous growth, you simply have to be willing to put your ego aside so that you can strategically evaluate results and incorporate lessons learned on the next attempt. The only requirement is to be better than you were yesterday.
That’s doable. That’s achievable. That’s stress-free. It’s the way forward. It’s the way towards living your dreams.
What are the strategies you use to counter perfectionism?