Overcoming Perfectionism Paralysis

Overcoming Perfectionism Paralysis

Dustin Lien
April 9, 2015

I built a website from scratch in 5 hours the other day, and it was not perfect, but I launched it anyway. Then I had lunch with a very successful entrepreneur who asked what I had been up to, and I showed it to him. He loved it. He didn’t even comment on the obvious flaws because he was excited about the concept. Even though it had a few bugs, it served its purpose for launch, and all went well.

Sometimes I write blog posts that I think are perfect, then I get terrible feedback. Why? Because my idea of perfect is different from other people’s ideas of perfect. I try to never feel bad about that though, it’s just reality.

You can’t please everyone every time. If you can’t please other people, the next logical thing to do is to try to produce perfect work at least to your own standards. That ends in just as many tears as trying to produce up to other people’s standards of perfection. After we realize there’s always something that can be improved, and there’s always someone judging us on our output with criteria we can’t possibly fully predict, we just stop trying.

Think back to school. Maybe you’re in school right now, in which case, think back to now. My least favorite thing about school was that teachers/professors could grade you based on how well they think you did. For example, there were plenty of times I wrote a paper that I spent weeks on and that I thought I knocked out of the park, and I would get a sub-par grade.

Other times, I would throw a paper together the night before and get an A+. The whole system is confusing, and the formula is almost impossible to crack. Perfection is judged differently by each individual person, and the standards by which each person judges are always subjective.

For me, and I think most people, if I scored somewhere between 90-100% on something in school, I felt good about it. Especially in college, a 90 was good enough for me. Had I obsessed over getting a perfect score on everything, I would have driven myself insane.

Maybe we should just stop scoring our work on any kind of scale, and focus solely on producing quality work that is good enough to be effective. Effectiveness is really what we’re trying for anyway, right? When we execute tasks, we have an underlying reason or goal that each task is being completed for, so shouldn’t effectiveness really be the deciding factor of a successful task?

What I’m really talking about here is finding balance. If you constantly insist on 100% perfection on all of your output, you will constantly be disappointed. When we’re constantly disappointed, we shut down. We give up. We stop putting ourselves out there because we feel like failures. This is what I (and I suspect others) call perfectionism paralysis.

Perfectionism paralysis is when we hold back on moving forward with something because we deem it not perfect yet. It’s when we’re frozen out of fear of judgement or self criticism.

We silently scold each other for settling for “good enough” rather than obsessing over perfection, but when it’s our turn to do something perfectly, we’re reminded of how challenging it is to hold ourselves to that standard all the time, and then we shut down and stop trying.

Stop trying to be perfect, it’ll only depress you and stop you from moving forward.

Instead, just try to keep getting better, and strive for effectiveness.

This is a bit of a jumbled post, ironically. It’s a stupidly simple, yet complex concept I’m attempting to feed you in a way that is digestible.

To be clear, I am certainly not advocating for laziness, apathy, lack of effort, inattention to detail or quality, or producing work without concern for how it turns out.

What I’m saying is that trying to drive your car at max speed in the red at all times will cause engine failure.

Rather than focusing on producing at 100% perfection on everything we create, we should focus on producing quality, effectiveness, and value. Go at max capacity on the tasks that really matter, and run at just the right level to be effective with everything else.

Perfectionism can be paralyzing, so use it wisely and sparingly, and overall, just focus on being effective.

It’s better to produce something that is just shy of perfect than never to produce at all.