Perfection is Overrated
“Perfect is the enemy of good.” — Voltaire
For most of my life I have been a perfectionist, of some sort. Every project that I worked on, every paper I wrote, and every game I played, I wanted to keep my errors limited to zero. Sometimes, this thought process turned out great for me. Most times, it left me extremely disappointed whenever I made mistakes or when things did not go the way I expected.
Over time, I have learned that perfection is both impossible and overrated. Even more important, I learned that aiming for perfection can lead to stagnation or a complete lack of progress. If life has to be perfect for me to be happy or get things done then I will always be unsatisfied and stuck. I didn’t want to be unhappy or stuck in place, so I found out that progress is more important than perfection. As long as I am getting better than what I did before, I am on the right track.
I had to accept that when I get to work on something, the results are not going to be perfect every time. I can be obsessed about details and my efforts without focusing on everything being perfect. Instead, it makes more sense to focus on getting better. With a perfectionist mindset, I was focusing on an unreachable standard. With a progress mindset, I am focused on comparing myself to my previous self, the only comparison that is necessary for progress.
Letting go of perfectionism allows you to let go of needing things to be perfect in order to be completed. I learned this once I published my first book and noticed that I could never get feedback from the public until my finished product was on shelves, online, in their hands, and available. While writing my book, I wanted everything to be perfect, but I was also rushing to complete it by a deadline. Once I released the book, I noticed mistakes that were bound to happen, but the only reason I caught the mistakes was because someone else brought it to my attention. In life, we are not always going to catch every mistake even when we think we are focused on being perfect. Sometimes it’s more important to get things complete than it is to get things done without mistakes. It’s also more realistic and helpful. Once you finish something, people can test it for you, grade it, try it, and give you feedback that will help you improve. If you never put it out there because you’re afraid that it’s not perfect, no one will ever see it.
My personal perfectionism was tied to the fear of failure. I did not want to make a mistake. We can’t let the fear of failure paralyze us from making progress. Making mistakes in the past does not have to keep us from making moves in the future. Nine times out of ten, doing something over nothing is better than doing nothing at all. The less you worry about things being perfect, the more time you can focus on getting things done and learning and growing. Focus on progress instead of perfection and watch how efficient you get. Be secure in yourself, your abilities, and your work, without the need for everything to be perfect. Being perfect is impossible, but being yourself is crucial.
Originally published at kevinclaiborne.com.