Thursday, July 28, 2011

Perfectionism is a Curse

Perfectionism can be a curse (and for me, is). Putting a large mental emphasis on things going just right has been bad for me in a few ways.

1. Very detailed mock ups of a project beforehand lead to disapointment. Nothing ever turns out the way its planned. Sometimes the end result looks very similar to the plan, sometimes they are worlds apart. Either way, the more one has invested in a very specific outcome, the more disappointed they are when it inevitably isn't so. Further, thinking about how the reality is unfortunately different than the mock up can cloud one's ability to see all the good of what actually is.

2. Perfectionism actually reduces the amount of productive output. I have twice as many blog posts in the drafts folder than I've actually published. If a project must meet an arbitrarily high standard for public display, sometimes only gold comes out ("To Kill a Mocking Bird"), but most times nothing comes out (after TKaMB, Harper Lee never published again and while she has been given numerous awards and honorary degrees, she always declines to give a speech). The thing is, most of us perfectionists have never written To Kill a Mocking Bird.

3. Perfectionism actually reduces  the quality of one's work. The perfectionist's head is filled with swirling, ebbing, and developing notions about how to make something just right.
"This part should be after that one." "Change the punctuation to this." "An additional explanation for this possibility is necessarily." "But what if they come with this response?" "Maybe I should wait to release this until later so that it will be received better?" 'This needs another edit." "What if this sounds too wordy?"
The perfectionist misses the forest for the trees. There is a time for all this mental drifting - normal people call it "Brainstorming". But such a process negatively effects the finished product -sometimes drastically so - when a perfectionist's head is full of these sorts of things while their word processor is empty the night before the due date. When that first daybreak chirp-chirp of the birds breaks through my window following the first few rays of the sun, I know perfectionism has screwed me again. The rough draft that was never done a week before because it wasn't even good enough for a rough draft would have been better than what a coffee-fueled insomniac can produce hours before the deadline. 

4. Perfectionism makes group-work very hard. Good groups work well because they develop ideas together. Everyone can buy into something they had a hand in creating. This process can be long, but its the right way to go. The perfectionist throws a ratchet in these gears because his is very uncomfortable sharing his half-formed ideas; he is very rude about pointing out the obvious faults in the half-formed ideas of  others. The perfectionist says: "If you want something done right, do it yourself." The person who enjoys sleeping at night and being friends with their coworkers is not as foolish.

5. Perfectionists can be made to feel bad when a flaw is found in their perfect idea. If a perfectionist manages to make something good enough to get past his own personally applied censors, there is a sense of pride that can be easily injured by any critic. If one gets in the habit of only expressing ideas of well-formed perfection, it can be a personal insult to take issue with them. Perfectionists can view their projects as children and a parent's blind love for child often clouds rational thought about that child after it has left the womb.

6. Habits of perfectionism promote habits of delinquency. More times than I care to count, I've have read an email, looked it over again, and put it away for later because I couldn't immediately come up with an appropriately perfect response. Then, it gets filled away again after a 2nd look the next day because I can't come up with an appropriately perfect apology for why I didn't respond yesterday. Talk about vicious cycle.  

In conclusion, perfectionism brings serious problems with it. Perfectionism ins't who I am, but I do notice perfectionists tendencies in myself sometimes and I am realizing how more often than not, they effect me adversely.

I realize the way to improve one's perfectionism is to practice just getting imperfect end-products out there. Hit SEND. One piece of advice I that seems apropos is:
 "For a clean desk, only touch each piece of paper once" 
This applies to incoming and outgoing office paperwork (and emails). But I think it applies much more broadly to mental paper.  A perfectionist holds onto all his ideas until they seem just right and the only result is that their mental desk is full, cluttered, and unorganized. 

Quite upsetting. 

Well screw that. This blog post went from idea to published in 1 hour. Perfectionist demons, take that.


Hubbardathome said...

Perfectly Frank

No Look Scoober said...

If you were to look into the current draft folders of Skyd, you would see plenty of started articles by me, but never finished. I am, fortunately and unfortunately not cursed by perfectionism, as some of my work I put out could be much better. Love your stuff so far.