Perfection: an unlikely obstacle to progress​

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Early in my career, the idea of perfection was a big motivator.

In school we learn a lot about perfection. Find the right answer in your math problems. Spell the word correctly. Get 100 percent on a test. Perfection in our society is an indicator of achievement and of “doing things right." This ideal followed me for years into my career until the burden of perfection became too much to bare; forcing a shift in the way I approached my work and my life.

For years, I spent many late nights imagining the perfect design, the perfect data model, the perfect string of code. Year after year, project after project, I sought this ideal. Dedicating countless hours to its attainment.

One year, after a string of very stressful projects, I stumbled across the phrase, “Perfection is an obstacle to progress." This phrase stopped me in my tracks and something in my mind clicked. Part of me was taken aback and almost insulted by the words in front of me, but another part of me resonated its truth.

I began asking myself about the cost of perfection and reflecting on the experiences I had created over past years. Over time, I began to suspect my need for perfection was the source of an enormous amount of stress in my professional life. It had strained my work relationships, extended timelines and made the creative process less than enjoyable.

Was it really worth it? Was the outcome, the gain, worth the cost?

I felt there had to be another way.

In the months that followed, I began developing a new awareness in myself and identifying when the need for perfection started creeping up in my thinking and behavior. I kept asking myself, “Is this really worth it, is this adding value?”

I was scared, but I took a leap. I knew the stress was not good for me or the people around me!

Very slowly I started to say, “This is good enough.” It was very difficult at first. I was fighting years of education. Part of me felt like I was slacking off, like I was failing. But over time, the value of this shift became very clear. Projects were progressing much faster, there were fewer obstacles, things were getting done and clients were still happy.

As the years have passed, I have since replaced my obsession with perfection with the pursuit of value and progress. Identifying and weighing value has become my gold standard. I have developed an internal radar that tells me when I have arrived at that sweet spot where further efforts will result in a decreasing return on investment.

Industry, business and our lives are fluid, ever-evolving landscapes that change over night. I believe the best thing we can do is make sure we add immediate value today, because tomorrow will be different.

Does it get the job done for the goal at hand? Are we moving forward? These principles have served me far better than perfection! I offer the thought that working smarter, and doing just enough, can actually result in achieving more!

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