The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (Part 11)
Your mind will tell you that your good work is not good enough. Do good work anyway. Avoid striving for perfection at all costs. Perfectionism is the idea that no standard other than flawlessness is acceptable. But it rarely stops there. Hidden within our demands for the perfect performance is the desire to be perfect ourselves. Indeed only such a perfect person could achieve the level of perfect performance that the perfectionist demands. You need not concern yourself with that. Perfection is an illusion. It is like a light that seems to be atop the next hill—distant but attainable—but which is, in fact, a star rising in the evening, hopelessly out of reach. Excellence, by contrast, is in the here and now. It occurs within the moment of action. It emerges only from doing with intention.
Perfectionism is a trap. Once you allow your goal to be tainted with it, you will become paralyzed by the expectation that your work could—and should—be flawless. Perfectionism will force you to immediately confront the possibility that it might not be so (in fact it definitely won’t be so!). And if it isn’t? That would be horrible! You would be a failure! And you just can’t take that can you? The result? Doing nothing.
Well let’s climb out of that particular bog. Your goal is to do good work. This will take effort, but it need not be a herculean endeavor. Moderate effort sustained over time will lead to the completion of achievable goals.
Perfectionism will call for the rejection of the achievable goal. But large goals are only attained by the successive completion of small goals. Achievable goals—those that can be executed within minutes, hours, or the working day—are the only goals that matter. It is in the completion of these stepping stone tasks that we fulfill our potential and flourish.
The Fine Print:
Achieving your potential doesn’t mean living up to some arbitrary standard imposed from without. No one—not even you can know what your potential truly is in advance. Potential is revealed only in the doing. You don’t have to win that golden medal, sell the most widgets, or claim the corner office. You must set the goal for yourself and it must be measured against yourself. If life is a race, the other runners are irrelevant. Their speed is an arbitrary measure based on an accidental sample. Fulfilling your potential may mean just running any part of the race at all or completing it with a faster time than your last effort—even if you come in dead last! Your excellence is not borne of besting others. It is not forged in the fires of competition. Competition may inspire you to push yourself, but it must never be a measuring rod of your worth. Excellence is borne of your intention to do good work, and forged in the fires of your own effort.
In a Nutshell:
To strive for perfection is to be stagnant. Instead, seek to do good work by putting forth moderate effort over time to complete achievable tasks. Seek to fulfill your unique potential without resorting to comparison with others.
What This Will Help You Avoid:
Stagnation. Nothing will destroy your productivity and fulfillment faster than perfectionism. Perfectionism will turn your successes into perceived defeats and your ability to accomplish into seeming helplessness.
What This Will Help You Gain:
Mastery. Here mastery is a personal value—the preference to work to attain proficiency at a skill. Mastery follows from effort put forth over time. Your failures will not destroy your resolve (as they would if your goal was perfection) but rather you will learn from each one, honing your skill ever more. In time, you will be able to accomplish tasks of such difficulty that you would once have thought them impossible.
The Source of this Idea:
Many have sited the dangers of perfectionism. One thinker who articulated the problems that result from the “should’s” and “must’s” that compose perfectionism is Albert Ellis, whose views on the subject can be seen here. His thoughts on perfectionism might provide a clue to how he was able to author or co-author over 75 books (no stagnation going on there!).
[Alright! I am one idea away from completing my list! This has been a very interesting project for me. These ideas are usually pressed as negatives. Trying to phrase them as positive ideas has been a very useful exercise. Please let me know what you think! ]
The Twelve Ideas That Can Change Your Life (so far)