There’s a dirty word that can be used to describe me—perfectionist. I used to think it was a good quality, now I know better.
(There are situations where being perfect is a matter of life and death—most of us would want the surgeon operating on us to be pretty perfect at the procedure they’re about to do, for example. None of my actions fall under this category.)
What’s bad about wanting to be perfect? First, you don’t get to do everything you want to do because your work never feels “good enough” to put out there, so you run out of time, and second, you’re always finding other small things that should be done before you do the thing you really want or need to do—perfectionists are often procrastinators, and though their intentions may be good, the end result is the same: stuff doesn’t get done.
Life was better when I thought perfectionism was a good thing, because I was unaware of how much time I was wasting in the quest to do everything right—back then I thought that was the way it had to be. Now that I know what I’m doing, it bugs me, even as I continue to do it. There’s a quote out there used by those who create things to sell: Done is better than perfect. Though I agree, I have a hard time making it stick. For example, a week ago, my sister wanted to send pictures of her son to our aunt, and when she uploaded the images she realized they were too large for our aunt’s not-so-great internet service. I told my sis that I’d reduce the size of the pictures and I did, to one third of the original size, which is great. My sister was pleased, but that wasn’t enough for me. I kept trying various tricks and programs to shrink the pictures further, even though my sister was happy with the first attempt; eventually she moved on to do other things while I continued to fiddle with the pictures. This happens often: someone asks me for help and they’re happy with my first or second attempt, but I keep going, spending double or triple the initial time on the task. In almost all cases the time invested wasn’t worth the end result, and I’ve taken time away from another task.
And to me that’s the biggest problem with perfectionism: you spend so much time on things that in most cases won’t be noticed, don’t have a significant impact, or just don’t matter. It’s not ok to throw precious time into things that don’t matter in the long-run, not when time is such a precious commodity. In most cases, “good enough” is actually good enough, even great, and sometimes even wonderful—it all depends on who is on the receiving end.
If you’re like me, and want to let go of perfectionism, we need to recognize that the opposite of perfect in this case isn’t terrible, it’s “good”, “pretty good”, or “just what’s needed”, which is more than adequate. We need to start putting things out there, even if we don’t think they’re perfect—our audience might be just fine with it. And to those who can’t imagine anyone being ok with the “imperfect” thing they put out, by putting it out you’ll get precise feedback on what you put out there, instead of trying to imagine it and correct for it on your own!
Are you a perfectionist, or do you focus on getting things done (or have you found a way to be both!)?