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Perfection, the Enemy of Progress

Employers love to ask nervous interviewees, “What’s your greatest weakness?” Many of us respond with the popular answer, “I’m a perfectionist”. I’m not sure when this answer gained traction, but I’m guilty of this humble brag. While not intentionally, my response was spot on. Perfection is my weakness. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you know that perfectionism is not the flex most people think it is.

Perfectionism is about avoiding feelings of inadequacy. Perfection gives you permission to not feel bad about yourself. It doesn’t always work out that way though. Personally, perfection never made me feel better. I wasn’t working toward something great. I was trying to avoid something negative. Even a rock-solid plan was no match for perfection’s sinister partner procrastination. The need to be perfect creates anxiety and makes it hard to get started. You know you’re in for a lot of work and self-induced drama. Under those circumstances, anyone would be hesitant to get started! You may think to yourself, “Dani, perfection can’t be ALL bad”. You’re right, perfectionism has a few perks. People admire perfectionists. We work hard and pay attention to detail, but alas my friends, the disadvantages aren’t worth it.

I have four good reasons why perfectionism is keeping you back.

1. You waste a lot of time. Some things don’t require a mountain of attention. Spending more time than necessary is a waste of an important resource: your time. If success is important to you, consider managing your time wisely.

2. It creates a lot of stress. When you believe there is only one way to be successful, there’s no room for mistakes. The more I strive for perfection, the less happy I become. Satisfaction will continue to be out of reach.

3. You lose sight of the big picture. Burying yourself in trivial details can limit your awareness of the bigger objective.

4. You’re never happy with your results. The end of a project may not trigger the satisfaction of a job well done. Perfectionists are often their harshest critics.

I’m not the master of taming perfection, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here’ are a few tips:

1. Determine a reasonable amount of time for completing the task. You may have to phone a friend for an accurate measure of reasonable. Set the timeline and stick with it.

2. Focus on the most important content. Don’t spend too much time on minor details. Ask yourself which activities will yield the most results for the time allotted.

3. Learn to accept being less than perfect. Notice that no one else cares if something is less than perfect. You don’t need to be better than everyone. Strive to attain a high level of quality with a reasonable amount of effort and time.

Now it’s time to reflect. Are you successful, but not pleased with yourself? Do you find it hard to be proud of your work? You can remain committed to excellence without falling headfirst into the perfection pit. If you’re a perfectionist, ask yourself why. It may take a while to deviate from your perfect ways, but it’s possible. The benefits of excellence are far more enjoyable than the disadvantages of perfectionism.

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