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The Perfectionist's Plight


This is where I write about what interests me.

The Perfectionist's Plight

James Stratford

I am a perfectionist. It might amuse some people I know to hear me say that because I can be quite untidy, often have a day or two of beard growth and make little or no attempt to style my hair! I promise you, however, I am a perfectionist.

Being a perfectionist is a curse. It makes me hugely unproductive. In everything I do I want to impress; I want to do things to 100% of my ability. This all sounds great; high standards are never bad. The problem is that life is not perfect. There are ever decreasing returns on how much time and effort will pay off. Getting from 95% to 100% of what I am capable of demands exponentially more time and energy than getting from 80% to 95%.

Even worse than this is the fact that in our universe of imperfection, 100% is actually unattainable. Time constraints, tiredness, personal tastes of clients, a lack of proficiency et cetera can get in the way. This leads me to sometimes taking an unfathomably long time to complete tasks. This frustrates family, friends and employers alike. It also infuriates me.

I don't want to tell anyone to lower their standards. For every perfectionist reading this with a nodding head there will be someone who happily accepts slap-dash. They probably tell themselves they are the ones that 'get things done.' In reality, too often people just don't care about their work. Those people are the ones that create the stupefying situations in life where a product or service is breathtakingly bad. Those people make my head hurt.

Of course, the world needs those people who get things done well. They are the ones that end up in suits in boardrooms. They meet deadlines. They're also the ones that understand the perfectionist's plight the least. They could never design a beautiful product or write a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. They are the agents who call the writers and tell them they need to get a move on! It takes all kinds…

Most people are somewhere in the middle. They care about their work – they want to do well – but in the end they know that things need to get done and they draw a line at a sensible point and finish the task.

I need to learn that 95% is good enough and that the more work I can do to 95% of my ability the better that 95% will look. As one improves, that 95% will almost certainly become better in absolute terms than what once would have represented 100%. Keep working, keep improving. Stop worrying, procrastinating and nitpicking.

…but I digress.