Perfectionism: Just not good enough for You

No matter our ages, perfectionism can be as ugly, mean, and nasty as procrastination. Why? Because even when we manage to get started, which can sometimes be plenty difficult already, perfectionistic tinkering can keep us from ever quite finishing. Bad news, if we no longer have all the time in the world to deal with what we want—or possibly must—do.

Do you engage in such tinkering yourself? And does this quest for "just right" drive your colleagues, friends, and loved ones up the wall? Do you sometimes drive even yourself crazy and wonder why you can’t just get it done? (She asked, raising her hand.)

If yes, perhaps you too bear the heavy yoke of perfectionism, with the lure of the “perfect” sometimes driving you off the rails instead of to your destination.

You don’t mean any harm. You just want to make the project a little better…then, a little bit better still...and then, even better yet. But while you're stuck in that rat-fink make it better box, the enterprise can grow stale.

Done Beats Perfect, Baby!

So, what if you were to consider a new standard for certain projects (as in B or B+ instead of A or A+). Now, you focus as much upon completion as upon perfection. No, you don’t slop through your task just to get finished or race heedlessly toward a poorly thought-out destination. You do want a good product, after all. But you also don’t tinker endlessly with your task or project in a protracted pursuit of perfection. [See bottom section for an example of such a pursuit.]

Instead, you work steadily toward your goal, step by step by step. And you keep going until you get that sucker done to your reasonable satisfaction. Then, and only then, do you allow yourself a little revising...but not so much that you fall into the trap of "perfection pursuit."

Shortly thereafter, you draw the line: you're finished! And
should the tinkering urge keep falling upon you? Then, perhaps try reminding yourself that “good” (as opposed to "excellent") quite possibly IS good enough for many practical purposes. So, if it needn't be the World's Greatest, just wrap that project up and let it recede in the rear-view mirror. Yes, I know it's hard...

  Perfectionism Running Amok

If you're still with me, here's a description of the kind of "protracted pursuit" referred to above.

As you've no doubt experienced yourself, perfectionism has its pros as well as its cons. Sometimes, for example, we can even make a case for it, although (IMHO) there will generally be trade-offs. Here’s an example involving just such trade-offs, one that took place at the home of you-know-who every month. Read it and weep; then, perhaps ask yourself if any lessons/messages may lurk there for you.

The Sack-Lunch Project
As part of its homeless program, a volunteer organization in one USA city runs a temporary-labor operation. One of its benefits is a sack lunch, these donated primarily by community members.

While living in that city, my husband and I provided a dozen such lunches monthly: not that many, right? Ah, but inside the make-things-better box, twelve lunches became rather more complicated than they absolutely had to be. But I was powerless against the urge to maximize those lunches.

How It Went Down
Among other items, the agency wanted two meat-and-cheese sandwiches in each lunch. So, I used "home-style" turkey slices rather than lunch-meat versions, and added an extra slice of cheese to each sandwich for more protein.

And, because we were supposed to leave condiments off to avoid sogginess, I bought mustard and salsa packets, which I rolled up in napkins with a plastic knife for spreading.

Then, along with the suggested peanut-butter crackers and bag of chips, I'd stick a packet of nuts and a couple of jerky sticks into each lunch to add more protein and jollies. For the requested "treats," I made brownies and cookies (which had to be wrapped) because homeless people probably don’t get a lot of homemade stuff...and so on.

But you see what was happening, right? Although said to be much appreciated by their recipients, the enhancements to those lunches added quite a bit to the time and effort involved. So, in trying to make them "better," I also limited the number of lunches we donated for their actual intended purpose.

And thus, although with the best of intentions, did perfectionist-creep invade my efforts—not for the first time and probably not for the last. When/If you find yourself in analogous circumstances, what might be some ways you could deal with such "urges" more effectively than I did?

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