Perfectionism: Not Really Good Enough for You

No matter our ages, perfectionism can be just as mean and tough as procrastination. Why? Because even when we manage to get started, which for some is difficult already, perfectionism can keep us from ever quite finishing. That can be bad news for women 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 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, in whose grip the lure of the “perfect” can drive 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 even better yet. But eventually, the enterprise can grow stale.

While you endlessly tinker 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 familiar, you (like I) spend time in the killer "make it better" box.

Done Beats Perfect, Baby!

What if you were to kick out of that one and 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 edits or 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 with that sucker. But should the tinkering urge keep falling upon you, as it may well 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 be done with it. Now you’re free to celebrate and perhaps even start something else. Why not give it a shot and see how you like it?

  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 and 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 takes 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 local nonprofit 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.

Each month, my husband and I provide a dozen such lunches, which really doesn’t sound like much, does it? Ah, but because I’m working within the "make things better” box, twelve lunches have become somewhat more complicated (and expensive) than they absolutely have to be. But I seem powerless against the urge to maximize those lunches in whatever way possible.

Here's how it goes down. Among other items, we’re asked to provide two meat-and-cheese sandwiches in each lunch. So, assuming that one of those sandwiches serves as a dinner snack, I first double-up each lunch sack—just in case the inner one gets greasy or tears, right?

I also add an extra slice of cheese to each sandwich to provide more protein. And, because we're supposed to leave condiments off (to avoid sogginess), I buy mustard and salsa packets, which I roll up in three napkins (one for evening) and a plastic knife for spreading.

Then, along with the suggested peanut butter crackers and bags of chips, I stick a packet of peanuts into each lunch and maybe one or two jerky sticks to add more protein and jollies. Moreover, for the requested treats, which could be commercial, I make brownies and cookies because homeless people probably don’t get a lot of homemade stuff.

You see what’s happening here, right? Although said to be much appreciated by their recipients, the enhancements to these lunches add quite a bit to their cost and also to the labor. In trying to make them "better" (i.e., provide each homeless person with interesting food and more of it), I limit the number of lunches we donate for their actual intended purpose.

And thus, although with the best of intentions, has perfection-creep invaded my efforts—not for the first time and probably not for the last. Yes, value has definitely been added here, but so has more expense and work. If, on the other hand, I busted out of the "make it better box," we could provide more but simpler lunches to people in need. Also, I wouldn't keep second-guessing my strategy and wondering if maybe I'm being a seriously big dummy.

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

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