Combating Perfectionism to Survive

My childhood was spent painting. I learned early on that mussing around too much with color on top of color eventually turned a beautiful painting brown, and the only way to fix this horror was to let it dry and paint over it again. If only I just stopped while I was a head – when it was “good enough” – and moved on. But I couldn’t, because stopping before it’s perfect in my mind was a relative impossibility.

Perfectionism is ironically the worst enemy of success. I oft forget how much of a perfectionist I am until someone else points it out. For example, the other day, a family member saw me working on details of a poster with a designer and said she would never spend that much time on such an item. The most successful people, I’ve learned, are not necessarily the ones who dot their i’s and cross their t’s, but the ones who quickly move from one thing to the next, covering the most ground.

Of course, that’s not the case for some fields – like medicine or physics – where anything less than perfection can result in failure. But in most aspects of life, perfection doesn’t actually matter. Let’s just ignore the fact that in most aspects of life it doesn’t even actually exist, for a moment. As a whole, most people aren’t going to notice if your colors or spacing is slightly off. Most people don’t notice quite as many details as I do on a daily basis to begin with.

Yet with my distracted, ADHD mind, I’ve yet to find a way to ensure that the important details do not slip without obsessing over the many that no one should care about. Even then, I find I somehow miss the big things that others will notice, while all the details that probably won’t get any mindshare in a person’s busy day are flawless. Clearly, I’m doing this all wrong. You know, existing.

The thing about perfectionism is thatĀ over the long term to accomplish anything near perfect you need repeatable processes to maintain such perfection, and then you need to, as in the words of the immortal Disney song, Let it the fuck Go. (Ok, I added two non-Disney words in there.)

But the reality is, I’m not saving lives with my job, I’m not saving the world. In the grande scheme of things what I’m doing doesn’t matter. As an INFP, I’m an idealist, and I pour 100% of myself into everything I do. It’s just my nature. And I have a lot of trouble detaching work from the rest of my life. The truth is, I’m as passionate about my work as I am any other aspect of my life, if not more so. Which is probably the problem to begin with.

That said, I’m the type of person who fades if the passion isn’t there, so I’d much rather be wholly passionate in each project, at least at the broader scale picture, than just getting through the day. How do I trick my mind into not caring so I can just get shit done? How do I make myself acknowledge that it doesn’t matter if the poster’s alignment is slightly off, but still catch that the word in the bottom left is misspelled?

This is my little dilemma. It sounds silly, but it’s the reason why I’m yet again struggling with my job. Deep down, I realize that my calling may have been a more creative field — cinematography, for instance — where such perfectionism, at least in terms of visuals and story flow, is actually a benefit to your success, vs business, where you’re expected to churn out results at an impossible speed, where “Minimum Viable Product” (MVP) is what you always want to be aiming for. You’re never creating something you’re proud of then, you’re just constantly rushing to create whatever works to achieve your goal with the very least amount of effort. That, on it’s own, over time, is soul crushing.

But it’s just work, right? And it’s the big wins that should fuel you. At least in business, al the little things are done to accomplish a very measurable, tangible goal. What is your annual revenue? That is the result of a lot of people’s hard work and little, non-perfectionistic successes.

I haven’t had a good New Years resolution yet, but I think this year mine will be to Let it (the fuck) Go. Because, let’s face it, if I don’t I will be unemployed again soon, and more deeper in the rut of unemployment than I was before. On the other hand, I have a very real opportunity to do extremely well in my current role. I have maybe three months or less to make it or break it, which may feel like a marathon, but in the grande scheme of things is actually a sprint.

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2 comments

  1. FinanceQA says:

    I think being a perfectionist can also cause anxiety and it can take a lot of precious time. However, if it’s done the right way, you can get a lot of great credits for a well-done job. When you do let it (the fuck) go, just be sure you’ve delivered. I hope everything works fine, though!

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