Photo by Jaime Spaniol, taken in Armação dos Búzios, Brazil

How To Deal With Perfectionism Without Being Afraid of Imperfect Results

Vasily Myazin, September 14th, 2020

Getting desired results for set goals is incredibly important. After all, when we get fired up by an idea and set it in motion, we want to achieve something that in the end will resemble what we had in mind.

Practice self-examination to address chronic perfectionism

This may not concern everyone but there is a fair chunk of the population that suffers from perfectionism, often without even knowing it. How do I know when a serious case of perfectionism hits me? Given that all of the necessary elements are accomplished:

  • I can’t seem to reach or simply define the finish line
  • My mood changes from feeling excited and enthusiastic to tense
  • I imagine “the crowd” judging me for not delivering best-in-class outcome
  • I keep putting off publishing or sharing because I need to add “just one more thing”

These attributes yield the awareness of my being stuck in the perfection purgatory and prompt me to take action to remedy the situation.

Learn to know when to stop improving on a project

Now begins the real tough-to-acquire skill: knowing when to stop working on a thing. Truthfully, I may never develop a perfect method – see what I did here? – because for the scrupulous maker no one thing is ever truly finished. Like writing this blog post, for instance, is a case of me potentially wanting to include some studies, references to other articles, hard facts etc., beef it up, instead of getting it to the “good enough” state and hitting “Publish.”

Another example. I’ve been working on the personal website project – the one you are reading this article from – for a few years now. Some time after I kicked it off, I stopped because the desire to perfect it parallized me. It was easier to drop it altogether than to implement what I had and add incremental changes later. So I released the first version, then a year later I got together with my close friends to brain-storm further additions to the site. My perfectionist friends, well-intentioned as they are, cornered me with their valid questions like “Who are you making it for?” and “What exactly are you trying to achieve by placing this type of content there?” I didn’t have answers that satisfied them and it got me frozen. I didn’t touch the project for another year because my inner perfectionist got defeated by pointed questions. I later came to a realization that action begets action and that I simply needed to aim for a less-than-perfect outcome. So I began adding elements, section by section, until a more mature product started to shape up.

I have a strong propensity for aiming high when working on my projects and even when helping others. It’s a years’ long struggle to be able to pause, take stock and detect that my urge to bring something to a flawless condition is a fool’s errand.

Perfect is the enemy of the Good. Yet, Good is the enemy of the Good Enough.

The bottom line is, achieving absolute perfection is unattainable, and intensifying effort to reach that ideal state leads to diminishing returns. Don’t take this as a permission to do a sloppy job. Be aware of the baseline standards in any given situation, and aim for that. Perfection is a gentle and demanding animal and it only deserves being followed faithfully when: you have an unlimited amount of time to reach it you hit a stroke of genius you have done a number of iterations that made your effort work in the real world, and now, by adding more effort, you naturally break onto the next level

Side note: my opinion here is only meant to unblock you, the reader, not to discourage you to aim for greatness. Remember, that a phenomenal result, something you can be proud of, consists of a long series of seemingly mundane tasks.

By the time you find this post, it might be past its first publishable iteration. That may mean you have witnessed a feat of perfection. :)

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