Stop pursuing perfection

Perfection is so rare; we need to be more satisfied with completion.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

During a recent networking event, I had a conversation about something I admire about members of Generation Z and also the youngest millennials, specifically their tendency to put their ideas out there for the world to consume, comment on, and collaborate over, often regardless of having thought through the idea to completion.

By that I mean, in the most loving way possible, that they seem not afraid of sharing their half-baked ideas and are willing and eager to let the world entertain them before they’re fully formed.

This notion was brought home again through an early July commentary in the New York Times by Tim Herrera titled, “It’s Never Going to Be Perfect, So Just Get It Done.” In it, the old Voltaire quote, “Perfect is the enemy of good,” was reprised.

I tend to think most of us struggle with perfectionism to varying degrees. No matter your relationship with perfection, it’s safe to say we’ve all at one time or another delayed or even failed altogether to complete some job or task because it wasn’t yet “perfect.”

Perfection is a fool’s errand. That’s something we all (should) know. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to obtain it and celebrating the fleeting moments when it does happen.

How rare is true perfection? Baseball offers a good example. Over the 144 years of Major League Baseball history, and over 217,000 games played, there have been 23 official perfect games, and no pitcher has ever pitched more than one. That equates to perfection 0.0001 percent of the time, which honestly sounds about right for life in general.

Still, how often do we chastise ourselves for not being perfect? Having worked in both newspapers and magazines, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone drop an expletive when the new issue hits our desks and they see a small mistake we’d missed over the course of numerous edits.

Honestly, it can sometimes be a Herculean task (relatively speaking — I’d like to think the work we do here is a cut above cleaning the Augean stables) just getting an issue done and out the door on time. That we and so many other publishers are able to do it without making mistakes more often is a feat unto itself.

That doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t strive for perfection in the work we produce, in whatever form that takes. But it does mean we should be more comfortable with the idea of completion instead of perfection.

The fact is, “done” is often better than “perfect,” especially in deadline-driven environments. It’s healthier, too.

As described in that New York Times piece, “Maximizers relentlessly research all possible options in a scenario for fear of missing the ‘best’ one, while satisficers make quick decisions based on less research.

“But here’s the key: Somewhat paradoxically, research [published in Psychological Science, the journal of the Association for Psychological Science] has shown that satisficers are more satisfied with their decisions than maximizers are.

“In other words, just getting it done — whether that’s a decision you have to make or work you have to do — will leave you more satisfied than if you had agonized over the task in the pursuit of perfection. Even better, you’ll actually finish.”

Only 23 pitchers have ever pitched a perfect Major League Baseball game, but even the most diehard fan would be hard-pressed to name them all. And yet, someone still recorded a win in the other 216,977-plus games played, and their accomplishments were no less important to the fortunes of their teams. Sometimes getting it done is good enough.

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