Why Perfection Sucks and What to Do Instead

While good is the enemy of great, perfection is the enemy of performance.  Here are a few reasons why.

Perfection is an impossible standard.

I grew up loving school.  I loved learning.  I loved trying new things.  I used to read books and learn new things beyond the scope of school in my own time purely for pleasure.  I even taught myself HTML when I was 10 years old.  But by the time I was 13, I was the kid who made wisecracks while the teacher was talking.  I was arrogant about school being easy and pointless.  I started doing the absolute minimum amount of work necessary to earn a respectable grade point average.

Why?  Because my best was never good enough.  If I got a 94% on a test, I’d take it home to hear, “A-minus?!? Why not 100%?” from my parents.  I used to attempt to read books that were far beyond my reading level that I didn’t fully understand, and when I’d attempt to take a comprehension test on it, I’d get a bad grade.  When I took the test on books my own grade level – which were extremely easy by comparison, I could get 100% without even trying.  But then it was no longer interesting.

In this way, I learned that trying my best didn’t lead to a perfect score.  And getting a perfect score was all that mattered.  If I happened not to do as well as I hoped on a project or a test, I was able to rationalize, at a very young age, that I didn’t try my best so it didn’t matter.

Perfection leads to procrastination.

I’m sure we all have heard that the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  Well, when it comes to projects, striving for perfection is like trying to eat an elephant in one gulp – it seems impossible and even if it were, it would be a giant pain in the ass (like my use of simile?).  Why even get started?

Perfection is inauthentic.

The problem with trying to be perfect is that perfection is a myth.  No human being is perfect.  I’m sure most of us have had an experience where we went on a date or a business meeting trying to pretend to be someone we were not in order to impress the person we were with.  The biggest tragedy in these types of situations is if we act inauthentically and it works!  Good luck keeping that relationship alive by over-promising and under-delivering.

Okay, Ryan.  You had me at hello.  What do we do?

There is a phrase I learned while studying business that went like this: “Ready, Fire, Aim.”  Another way it was put – don’t focus on making the right decisions so much as making decisions and then making them right.  Repeatedly shooting at a target and adjusting your aim will lead to more successful hits in life than making sure your aim is perfect before shooting.

In real life, opportunity is a moving target – and by the time you’ve wrote the perfect resume and built the perfect wardrobe, that open position will have been filled and that potential coffee date will have moved on.

People who been successful in any endeavor – be it their jobs, their relationships, or their fitness regime – have all demonstrated a bias for action.  They didn’t wait until all the lights were green before leaving their house.  They didn’t wait until things were perfect to take decisive action when the opportunity arose.  They just acted.

My suggestion?  Go and do likewise.

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