There’s No Such Thing As Perfection

10 cardI’m a perfectionist.

I’m also an idealist. Yet, as I rapidly approach my 34th birthday (one week from today – Feb 23 –  accepting gifts) and nearing they day that Baby Waldow arrives (March 28 – also accepting gifts), I’m becoming less of a perfectionist and more of a realist.

What Is Perfection?

That’s the real question. Is perfect a 10 out of 10, a 100% or a 50 (think NBA Slam Dunk Contest)? What about a perfect game in baseball or a perfect season in football (Miami Dolphins)? Even though the Dolphins didn’t lose a game in 1972, was their season “perfect?” Is 10 perfect? Not if you can turn it up to 11 (Spinal Tap reference).

Perfection starts with standards. Who defines them? Are they always the same? Some argue that the New England Patriots had a perfect season, yet lost to (my) NY Giants in the Superbowl. Is that perfection by a different standard? A few years ago, the Utah Utes had an undefeated season (13-0) yet were not BCS Champs. Were they perfect? Think about a “perfect” quarterback rating in the NFL. It’s a 158.3. Is that perfect? QBs can have very different stats and still end up with a perfect rating. How does that make any sense? What I consider perfect may be less then perfect (or even crap) to you and vice versa. That’s the rub. There really is no such thing as perfection.

Kristina Was Right: Perfection Doesn’t Exist

My wife, Kristina (aka, the K-Dawg), has been telling me this for years. I’ve been ignoring her. Part of it is likely due to my competitive nature – Dammit. I’m gonna prove her wrong! However, besides my desire to “win”, I also think that those who strive for perfectionism are more likely to be successful. I’m not sure if I’ve read that somewhere or just made it up. Either way, I believe it to be true.

Aside: As I’m writing this post, I’m toggling back and forth to a slide deck (PowerPoint presentation) for an upcoming conference. I’m moving pictures and words around on some slides to be sure they are “just right.” What’s wrong with me? Will anyone notice except me? Probably not. Heck – I just read and re-read and re-re-read that paragraph above to be sure it was perfect.

However, perfection doesn’t really exist. We can always do more, better, faster, cheaper. Always. Please don’t tell Kristina she was right. Please?

I’m Not Perfect , You’re Not Perfect

Thinking back to my “pre-adult” life (more on growing up by Teresa Basich), I haven’t really been perfect. Far from it in fact. In school, I never made straight A’s. I didn’t get a 1600 on my SATs (not even close!). I didn’t ace every exam I ever took. I’ve always been an above average athlete in most sports, but I’ve never been the star.

I’ve got some news for you as well. You are not perfect either. There is always something you can be doing “better” – an aspect of your personal or professional life you could be tweaking, improving, perfecting.

Stop Trying To Be Perfect

Ok. I admit it. Maybe I’m writing this post more for me then for you. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s okay to not be perfect. I’m writing down my thoughts in hope that I’ll actually believe them … listen to my own words.

But I’m serious. It is not possible. More importantly, if you try to be perfect at everything, you’ll miss out on a bunch of other cool stuff. In the time it took me to knock out this (perfect) blog post, I could have written 3-5 posts that were “90% perfect.” Which is better, one killer (perfect) post or 5 really really good posts? I think you know where I’m going.

Now let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that you (or I) should not strive to be the best we can be. I’m not saying that mediocre is okay. I’m merely stating that there are times where less then perfect is not only acceptable, but preferred. Sometimes it’s okay to give and/or achieve less then 100%. I think this keeps us sane. It ensures that we don’t spend all of our time on one thing and miss out on other aspects of life.

So, am I crazy? Should I not give up my perfectionist mindset? Have I convinced you that perfectionism is not only unrealistic, but a waste of your time? Talk to me…

Photo Credit: aprilzosia

DJ Waldow
@djwaldow

24 comments
debhenry
debhenry

The returns you see as you approach perfection decrease and therefore do not deserve your time after a certain point. (Maybe this is why everyone should take calculus?) The principal mark of good work is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers. A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.

Arina
Arina

There's a great book called Never Good Enough (http://amzn.com/068486293X) that is exactly about this, and about how to retrain yourself to think about yourself in a way that isn't so exhausting!

Scott Cohen
Scott Cohen

DJ: Good read as always. Remembering what Seth Godin talked about last week at the awesome talk we got to attend, his big thing was about "Shipping" as he called it. At the end of the day, you have to ship. As the adage (modified) goes: Ship or get off the pot.

I gave up perfection long ago. It's the imperfections you learn to love.

Justin Kownacki
Justin Kownacki

In art school, we flirted with the idea of "perfection" for about one week. Then our first assignment was due, and we quickly understood that there IS such a thing as a work of art that's "done." Without deadlines, we'd forever be chasing perfection, and our body of work would be at zero because we'd never have finished anything in the first place.

The same applies to all aspects of life, though it doesn't stop us from always pursuing "better" results. If you're not beholden to someone else's deadlines (and if you can't trust yourself to adhere to the ones you self-impose), your best alternative is to qualitatively evaluate the many facets of your life and ask yourself: In which endeavors MUST I do my best, which ones SHOULD I do my best, and which ones can I simply do "enough"?

Because there's never enough time for perfection, but there's always time for regret. And regret is something that only ever affects you, which makes it kind of selfish, considering you have other people relying on you for happiness, love, survival and -- very soon -- all of the above. Stop worrying and start enjoying the processes themselves; improvement comes from paying attention, not from obsessing to the point of calamity.

Stephanie Miller
Stephanie Miller

DJ - first of all, how cool is it that you have so many comments and supportive readers! Bravo.

Here's the thing. Define "perfect." Are you proud of your work? When you take stuff to your readers, your boss, K-Dawg, your dad... do you feel you did your best?

If so, then I think that is just perfect.

[email protected]

maayanroman
maayanroman

Sorry to bring this personal note back to business, but as someone in my tenth month of professional life I find your post oh-so applicable to that aspect of my life.

This report could be "perfect" but is it worth spending another hour on when there are mailings to setup? This program could be "perfect" if we just keep testing and testing and optimizing and optimizing - but who else is going to want to stay in the office past 10 every day? Heck, I stopped wanting to do that right after I realized my commute is almost 3 hrs round trip.

Best take away is that perfection should be the path/practice, not the real end goal. The end goal should be satisfaction.

And if I haven't said it before, kudos on using Disqus, I really appreciate that.

Teresa Basich
Teresa Basich

Oh, DJ. Perfection is so boring. I attended an interesting all-day seminar about women and confidence (totally not up your alley, I know), but the lady hosting the seminar said the best thing ever: "Would you want to be friends with someone who's perfect? What's interesting about perfection?" Not a heck of a whole lot, that's what.

Strive to be YOUR best. Being your best doesn't equate to being perfect; being your best means moving through life proud of who you are and what you've achieved. It means being able to die tomorrow and say, "I did okay, damnit! And I'm leaving great things in my wake."

Give up the perfectionist mindset, darlink. It's no fun, anyhow. ;)

ericboggs
ericboggs

DJ - You're clearly polished and professional - which might as well be perfect.

wwaldow
wwaldow

What do you mean you're not perfect? Of course you are perfect......I'm you're your Father and I know you are Perfect. And I just can't figure out where you got that A type perfect personality from.....

MicJohnson
MicJohnson

DJ:

I think you are simply...or maybe not so simply...evolving...going from the youthful "anything is possible...I can be perfect" world to the realist's world. Welcome aboard...grab a cocktail and make yourself comfortable.

There are definitely advantages to youthful...or not so youthful...optimism, so hold onto that idea and belief that things can be better. It's what will continue to drive you...and separate you from the pack. I am definitely a realist....or a term I like even better is a rational optimist. I see the potential in things (people, business ventures, etc.), but I know that a lot of things have to come together for someone or something to reach that potential. I don't expect perfection. I expect a rational approach to making things (or myself) better than they are (or I am) today. Things can always be better...things can never be perfect. (If you think you've gotten to a point where everything is perfect, think about world peace or hunger and that should keep you busy for awhile. :)

By the way, congratulations on the upcoming arrival of Baby Waldow. If you are still struggling on the idea of perfection, I think Baby Waldow will show you very quickly that there is no such thing as perfection (i.e. the perfect parent). Either way, I have no doubt that you and K-Dawg will be wonderfully "close to perfect" parents.

Keep doing your thing, DJ. Enjoy, and embrace, your evolutionary process.

Jeremy Meyers
Jeremy Meyers

Striving for perfection is a recipe for suffering, because your brain basically reinvents what this mythical concept means no matter how far along you are in a project, as you noticed with your Powerpoint.

Remember that hitting 4 out of 10 baseballs gets you into the hall of fame.

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