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Don't Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good!

September 24th, 2014

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I remember clearly when I was studying to become a professional photographer, I had an assignment that I could not finish, there was always something wrong with it and I kept starting it over an over (note that this was way before the era of digital photography!) Because I was working with film, I could never see the end result until I developed my film, so the whole process was quite long, and starting over meant adding many hours of work and sleepless nights.

perfectionism

My teacher finally asked me why it was taking me so long. I explained to him that I had to start over 3 times and was still not happy with my pictures. He looked at me with a weary look and said: "give me what you have right now!"
I, of course was not ready to do that, but then he said: "Susana, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good"

From that day on, his advice stayed with me. If you are a perfectionist as I am, it is not easy to be content with your work, if you feel you can do better, the problem is: you always feel you can do better! so you are never fully satisfied with what you do.

Trying to do your best is a very good personal quality, however, being a perfectionist is NOT. The expectations you put on yourself, as a perfectionist, are enormous and you are bound to let yourself down over and over. You may spend crazy amounts of time in tasks that should not take you too long, you may procrastinate because you are daunted by the task at hand, you may be often disappointed with your performance, or you may be embarrassed of showing your work to others. These are all signs that you may be a perfectionist.

A few years back, when I was discussing some issues with my therapist, the fact that I was a perfectionist came into the table, and she gave me a simple little tool that I have tried to use ever since, but that I still find hard sometimes. She asked me to do something imperfect everyday and leave it like that, she said that I could start with small things that would not make me too uncomfortable, but by doing them everyday I would get used to the discomfort and would feel it less and less.

So my exercise started with something very simple: I was sending a few letters and I wrote one of the addresses wrong, so I crossed out the incorrect word and wrote the correct one next to it. The mailman would most certainly understand, but I felt really uncomfortable looking at the smudge, normally I would have torn the envelope and started all over with a new one, but I didn't.... This was the beginning of a series of small exercise to get used to the "discomfort" of not being perfect, and it has paid off.

But just recently I saw myself in the exact same position I was years back when I couldn't finish my photo assignment, and I realized how silly it all was. My children's teachers announced me, very last minute, that my kids where having a birthday celebration at school (in the previous couple years these celebrations were optional, and I did not do it because my kids where summer babies, so their birthdays would not happen during the school months) however this time, the teachers made the decision for me, and suddenly, I had a rush of guilt thinking that I had not done it the years before, and that now that I had to do it, it had to be perfect.

The school celebration usually involved showing pictures of the kids (at least one picture for every year of their life) and saying something important or a milestone that happened during each one of those years. So, here I was, with one day notice, going crazy, looking through thousands of pictures in my computer, trying to find the best ones, making sure I had at least one of them for every year of their lives, getting all confused about the dates, wondering if they should be alone in the pictures or with a loved one, wondering if I should print the pictures for the kids to pass along or if I should upload them to my iPad to show them at a bigger size, etc. It took me HOURS.

Then, I had to make a cake (homemade of course!) that was the easiest task, and last but not least, I had to come up with one nice milestone for every year, which was not easy since I had totally forgotten when they did what, where they 9 months or 1 year when they started walking?

Well, I didn't have time to do anything I had planned that day, but I was ready for the birthday celebration! (I had a pressing deadline, so I was done even if I wasn't totally happy with it)

So, I get to the school, with the cake, the iPad with all the pictures, the list of milestones for each one (since I have twins) and very anxious about the whole thing! And guess what happened...?

When I get into the classroom and show the teacher all I brought, she tells me: Oh, no, we won't do pictures this time, and instead of the milestones, we are just going to have every classmate say something they like about your kids, and as for the cake... well, we'll save it for snack time, as we prefer not to give them treats now.

Of course, she was really kind in her telling me all this, and of course, nobody had asked me to do all that, but I assumed it was going to be like the other teachers used to do it in previous years, but not this time...

So there I was, thinking of ALL the time I had wasted trying to be perfect, and I just laughed at myself and remembered my wise photography teacher. Here is another way to put it:

"Done is Better than Perfect"

So, if you feel you might be a perfectionist, or know someone who is, you may enjoy, or want to share this post and the related articles below.

Have a Great Week!

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