‘What’s the number one problem you could solve or change you could make which would have the biggest impact?’ I asked the person sitting in front of me.
They thought for a moment.
‘To just do.’ They replied.
‘Ok,’ I said. ‘Tell me a little more about what you mean’.
‘Well, in other words,’ they continued, ‘when I’ve committed to something – whatever that may be and even if that commitment is only to me – to make sure it gets out there. That it gets done. Rather than waiting or putting off; rather than procrastinating about it and rather than finding the next thing to do.’
‘Can you give me an example?’ I asked.
They sat back in their chair and folded their arms momentarily.
‘I love starting new things. In fact I’d say I was good at starting new things. But regardless of what it is – a project would be a great example – I really struggle to bring it to fruition and to finish it. I think some people would call it a failure to ship’.
‘I don’t want to trivialise this,’ I said, ‘but I’m assuming that if you wanted to do something, that you’d just do it. And that if you wanted to finish something you’d make a choice and do it. So what’s stopping you?’
‘Because,’ they replied, ‘I want it to be perfect’.
The word ‘Pernicious’ means to ‘cause harm or to ruin’. It can also mean ‘deadly’. And there’s no doubt that the pursuit of perfection can cause harm or ruin to any idea, project or business and in severe cases it can be deadly.
Striving for perfection can cause frustration to all those involved. It can cause stress and be detrimental to motivation. It can result in missed opportunities and a ‘pollution’ of creative thinking.
Striving for perfection is a breeding ground for procrastination and, as has been well quoted, ‘the road to Someday leads to a town of Nowhere.’ Above all else though, in striving for perfection, some of the best ideas, projects and businesses never see the light of day.
The solution to this is firstly to accept that you’ll never achieve perfection. That whilst it’s unattainable, it’s also a constantly moving target and one which is based on individual definition and perception.
Secondly, to be realistic and accept any failure sustained as a result of finishing is part of the journey. As such, try to follow the path of greatest enjoyment and embrace the experience.
And thirdly to understand that the only reason we start is to finish.
So quit being a perfectionist, start with the end in mind, commit to it and celebrate your successes.
Do not let the desire for perfection become pernicious.