This post is by Jane Perdue, founder of Braithwaite Innovation Group and a leadership and women’s issues consultant. Perdue is @thehrgoddess on Twitter and can also be found doing e-learning at Get Your BIG On.
Are you trapped in the paradox of perfection? Do you want to crank out perfect outcomes yet fear failure so much that you quit trying or give up or never get anything finished? In a society that idolizes flawlessness (air brushing photos and the like), it’s easy to step over the line into the dark side of perfectionism: A space where you make an art form of always over-delivering faultless outcomes, even when that level of work isn’t warranted.
For certain, there are many advantages to being conscientious and wanting to excel. Those aims are healthy, especially when they pull you encouragingly toward a desired goal. But if you perpetually push yourself to be the absolute best and don’t allow any shortcomings or defects (as you define them), then you’re mired in unhealthy perfectionism. “There’s a difference between excellence and perfection,” says Miriam Adderholdt, author of “Perfectionism: What’s Bad About Being Too Good?” “Excellence involves enjoying what you’re doing, feeling good about what you’ve learned, and developing confidence. Perfection involves … always finding mistakes no matter how well you’re doing.”
To aim for excellence rather than perfection, remember:
1) Being perfect is elusive and usually not necessary. Since 1876, 199,618 major league baseball games have been played, and only 20 of them have been perfect. The other 199,598 games turned out just fine, as the stat books show. Follow author Peter Bregman’s advice to “shoot for the new gold standard: good enough. Be the good-enough parent. The good-enough employee.”
2) Being perfect is a waste of time. If perfection is your goal, you’re probably living in a self-imposed prison, one filled with non-negotiable criteria. Meeting your own lofty standards requires rework on top of rework. All that tinkering takes time. Think of all the lost productivity involved in preparing what were most likely incremental improvements. Be able to recognize when your work has reached the law of diminishing returns, stop right then, and move on to your next project.
3) Being perfect is an enormous drain on self-confidence. Wanting to do flawlessly is commendable, but narrowing your possible outcome to either being perfect or being a failure is a self-destructive trap. This “either/or” mindset creates self-doubt and reduces creativity (cited as the single most important leadership quality for success in a study of 1,500 CEOs completed by IBM in 2010), innovation and risk-taking. And, if these limitations aren’t enough, a study done by Dr. Prem Fry, a research professor at Trinity Western University, revealed that individuals with high perfectionism scores had a 51% increased risk of death possibly related to high levels of stress and anxiety.
And lastly, remember that meaningful, long-term success derives more from how you handle what goes wrong than from getting everything perfectly right.