I’m a creator. I’m artistic. I make things. Not only am I wired that way, but my job is creating things as well. I take words and ideas and concepts from clients and I breathe life into them via the spoken word. I make concepts and feelings real and tangible.
I’m also a recovering perfectionist. And that can be a problem sometimes. And its not just me.
I see it all the time online in groups that I’m a part of: Someone will ask a question about how to make X project better or more awesome or as close to perfection as we can get. There will be a long discussion about how much we need to practice to get really good before you can put yourself out there and start trying for jobs. People will ask about rates to charge, or look to the group for permission to not charge as much as we should be charging. Or we will micro-analyze our work looking for problems.
Perfection can be a roadblocks to our success.
Negative thoughts will slow us down. Looking for errors will affect our confidence. And all of those things are excuses for not actually doing the things we need to do. They do not help us succeed. And we all do those negative things to some degree. It’s how most humans are wired. We want to do well, we want to impress people, we want to be recognized as skilled and talented. And we want to be liked by others.
I call myself a recovering perfectionist, because I’ve been guilty of all of those things myself. And its exhausting most of the time. Its wasted energy, and its not helping me do what I want and need to do to move forward in my life and my career. So I made a decision to be conscious of my natural tendency to obsess about the details and I work to try to let the unimportant bits go.
It’s OK to ignore tiny details that don’t really matter to the success of the project.
I make a point of not listening to the little voice in my head telling me that project X needs more work, more revisions, more practice, more whatever. It does not benefit me to create additional unnecessary work for myself. I’ve also tried to remember when I start to obsess about perfection, that a delivered product is always better than a perfect product. I’m not recommending you phone it in. But if the client is happy, then what right do you have to question that?
My wife is a public school teacher, so I often hear about the kids and the parents and the ongoing drama of life in a public high school. I hear about the kids that aren’t even phoning it in, and I hear about the kids that are trying and struggling to do the work and barely squeaking by. 1 percent doesn’t seem like much sometimes. But 59% is an F and 60% is a D. One is passing, one is not.
Then I hear about the parents that are upset because their kids only have a 90% in class and its ruining their chances for future success. I understand that GPA is important, and I understand that sometimes 1% can make a difference when you are trying to get into a highly competitive school. But I began to wonder what those parents are really teaching those kids. What lesson are they going to carry out into the real world with them about work and drive and ambition.
Is 1% that critical when you are already doing good work?
Most of the employers that I’ve worked for over the years just wanted the job done right. Not perfect. Just done right.
And then I thought to myself, a 90% is still an A. 91% or 92% or even 100% is just going to earn you the same A.
I’m not saying that we should phone it in and do lousy work. We still need to do excellent work, and we still need to push ourselves to do a little better on each project we take on. But if your client is happy with the work, then you should be satisfied with it as well. More importantly, if the client is happy, then you should take the win and move forward to the next project.
Resist the urge to iterate projects to some impossible standard of perfection. Fight the urge to practice until you feel you are perfect. Ignore the urge to go looking for problems in your work. Focus on the process, not the final product. The final product is never going to have the perfection that we imagine it to have anyways. There is always room to learn and grow and do better. If we focus on the process rather than the end result, then we can learn and adjust as we go. And that allows us to build our skills with every project that we do, which is going to naturally improve the end results.
We don’t need to be perfect, we need to be effective.
We need to work to keep up the momentum that we have built rather than obsessing about the tiny details that aren’t going to move the needle anyways. Take the “A” and move on to the next project. Make sure every project that you do is 1% better than your last one was and keep that momentum going. That’s how we grow our talent and our skills.
And don’t forget that 90% is still an A.