Perfectionism: Maybe not good enough for you

No matter our ages, perfectionism can be just as ugly, mean, and nasty as procrastination. Why? Because even when we manage to get started, which can sometimes be difficult already, perfectionism can keep us from ever quite finishing. That can be bad news for people who no longer have all the time in the world to do what they want—or possibly must—do. So, let me ask you something: with certain projects, do find yourself tinkering and tinkering...and then tinkering some more?

Does this same tinkering, this quest for "just right," drive your colleagues, friends, and loved ones to distraction? Do you sometimes drive even yourself crazy and wonder why you can’t just get it done? (She asked, raising her hand.)

Perhaps you too bear the heavy yoke of perfectionism, with the lure of the “perfect” sometimes driving you right 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 eventually, the enterprise can grow stale.

While you tinker endlessly with your book, for example, somebody else writes one like it and gets it out to the world. If you’re setting up a website, it may eventually look awesome but perhaps also took you months instead of weeks...and so on. If that sounds like some of your own tasks/goals, you may spend time in the killer "make it better" box.

Done Beats Perfect, Baby!

So, what if you were to consider a new model: the “good-enough" approach. Now, you focus at least as much upon completion as upon perfection. No, you don’t slop through your task just to get finished or race heedlessly forward to a poorly thought-out destination. You do want an acceptable product, after all. But you also don’t tinker endlessly with your task or project in a protracted pursuit of the sublime. [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: only minimal fine tuning of whatever kind until the project is finished, or at least pretty close to the finish line. Then, and only then, do you allow yourself a second "draft." But do Not keep tinkering on and on! No ma'am: be “certifiably” finished fairly shortly thereafter.

In fact, say that you're finished. Just spit it right out: "I’m done." And mean it, too
you are finished. But should the tinkering urge keep falling upon you, as it may do, consider this: unless you’re doing such things as surgery, locksmithing, or boat-building, “good enough” quite possibly IS good enough for all practical purposes. So, wrap the project up and let it recede in the rear-view mirror. Yes! Now you’re free to celebrate and perhaps even start something else.

  Perfectionism Running Amok

If you're still with me, here's a description of the kind of "protracted pursuit of the sublime" I referred to earlier in this post.

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, see if any lessons/messages may lurk there for you.

The Sack-Lunch Project
As part of its homeless program, a nonprofit in a Southwestern city runs a temporary-labor operation. Besides earning a fair wage for each day’s work, the workers receive a sack lunch for their noon meal. These lunches are donated primarily by community members.

While we lived in that city, my husband and I provided a dozen such lunches each month, which really doesn’t sound like much, does it? Ah, but because I was working within the "make things better” box, twelve lunches became rather more complicated (and expensive) than they absolutely had to be. But I was powerless against the urge to maximize those lunches in whatever way possible.

Here's how it went down. Among other items, we were asked to provide two meat-and-cheese sandwiches in each lunch. So, assuming that one of those sandwiches would be serving as an evening snack, I first doubled-up each lunch sack—just in case the inner one became greasy or perhaps tore. 

I also used "real" slices of turkey, 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 three napkins (one for evening) and 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. Moreover, for the requested "treats," I made brownies and cookies because homeless people probably don’t get a lot of homemade stuff.

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 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. Yes, value was definitely added, but so was more work and also some expense. If, on the other hand, I'd busted out of the "make it better box," we could have provided more but simpler lunches to people in need. Also, I wouldn't have kept second-guessing my strategy and feeling like a dope...

Recognize anything/anyone in this description? (Not accusing, just asking...)

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