There are certain things I like about being a perfectionist. I like the way all of the writing in my diary is the same colour. I like the way everything on my desk is arranged at right angles. I like how my coffee is made because I make it exactly the same way each time.
I used to think being a perfectionist was something to be admired, how I only did great work and how everything I touched turned to gold… or something like that. And yes, that was pretty accurate, most of my work was pretty good, and so I thought I was doing ok.
However, the problem was I didn’t do very much work, and most of what I did do was unremarkably similar.
You see, I used being a perfectionist as a kind of shield keeping me safe against making mistakes. To a perfectionist, getting things wrong is not something we are used to, and so we do whatever we can to avoid these kinds of situations. This means we avoid trying new things, stretching ourselves too far and getting outside of our comfort zone.
Unfortunately, success ALWAYS lies outside of your comfort zone.
I ended up creating a life in which I knew where I felt comfortable, where failures were least likely to occur and where I told myself I had already been successful, a nice little fib that meant I didn’t need to try as hard as I used to. The problem was, after a while, my life started to resemble the movie Groundhog day. Every day was the same, the same patterns of behaviour, the same monotonous challenges that no longer actually challenged me, the same tedious routine. Comfortable and safe? Yes. Exciting and worthwhile? Hmmm…
They say that you teach the very thing you need to learn. This is probably why it was ironic that I was asked to give a training on how NOT to be a perfectionist.
I obviously had to do some research.
What I discovered was the Principle Of Good Enough (POGE). This is like kryptonite to perfectionists, and basically says your first effort is going to be terrible, but as long as it is good enough, you can improve it as you go along.
Think back to the first version of Facebook. There weren’t anywhere near as many functions and features then as there are now, but at the time, we weren’t upset. In fact, it was a great start. Over the years, the various upgrades have continued to improve functionality, but all throughout, the platform has done what it has needed to do. In fact, it will no doubt continue to evolve.
Now, imagine a perfectionist trying to create Facebook. It wouldn’t happen. On the day of release, the perfectionist would see something that wasn’t quite right, or think of another idea that had to be included, and would put the start date back a while. Then there would be a new interface to keep up with changing designs as well as an improved advertising section and better analytics.
The truth is, a perfectionist sees all these problems in advance, and then decides the project isn’t possible so doesn’t even start. This is why the trash can is empty. No rough drafts. No attempts. No mistakes. No chance of getting it wrong.
Of course, there are situations where POGE is not applicable. Exams. Birthday cakes. Parachute jumps. You probably want to make sure you get these right first time. But even in these cases, you could argue that POGe is still in place. You don’t jump immediately into the hardest exam. You have plenty of birthdays to practice making the cakes. And you don’t immediately jump out of the plane without a few practice runs on solid ground.
If you are a perfectionist, you need to start practicing the Principle Of Good Enough.
Take out that journal that someone gave you as a gift once but which you have been saving to write the best seller on your first sitting and make a mark on the from page. Deface it. Ruin its perfection. Whatever you do, just get started on something.
I promise you, it will be terrible, so get over it now. However, anything worth doing is worth doing badly to start with. That is how you get better. You give your best effort initially, and then use feedback to improve.
If your trashcan is empty, or your notebook is still clean, or your pen still hasn’t come out of the box, this is for you. Everything you have ever wished for is just on the other side of your comfort zone. All you need to do is let go of this idea of being a perfectionist and embrace a new, slightly messier future.