from the Blog

The Cost of Perfection


“Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’  Start where you
stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your
command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”  

                                                                                                          ~ Napoleon Hill 

I am a ‘perfectionist’.  There I said it – admitted it to the whole world.
Not only am I a natural perfectionist, but all of my upbringing and training perfected my perfectionism. I grew up in a very supportive family.  Both of my parents are educated professionals – an engineer and a teacher. My brother, sister and I were held to pretty high standards in everything that we did, and we did a lot of things. We tended to focus our efforts on the things that we were really good at. If we weren’t the best we took lessons to reach a higher level.
But the cost of perfection is high.  Consider the presumably simple act of shooting a basketball free throw.  The uncontested ‘free’ throw would seem like a great place for a pro to focus their energies and many do.  For reference the all time NBA free throw leader, Mark Price, shot 90.4%, while the NBA average free throw percentage is in the mid 70% with many players in the 50-60% range. Anecdotally the level of effort required to increase from 85% to 90% is nearly the same as getting from 50% to 80%.  And above 90% – almost inconceivable.  This  law of diminishing returns definitely at play here.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that because of the law of diminishing returns that you shouldn’t try to be better.  My illustration above is looking at players that are already performing at a high level.  They are far from average.
I have identified the following three tendencies of perfectionists:
  • Perfectionists as procrastinators – we put off starting something that we are not already accomplished at or can master in a short time.
  • Me, I am a ponderer (basically a procrastinator), sometimes researching, but mostly mulling over the possibilities until  I feel confident about the outcomes.
  • Others can never finish a project — rethinking, redoing, re, re, re, re . . . . 
What are the costs of not getting started?What are the opportunity costs of pondering a decision that really needs action?What are the costs of never finishing?
It is important to produce good work.  We should always strive to do our best. This is important in all of our endeavors. Whether in our personal lives, school, or the workplace we have limited time and resources. It is important that we find the right balance.
As a self reported perfectionist this next sentence is difficult to write (and may require therapy).  It is important that we identify ‘good enough’ – and when and where ‘good enough’ is appropriate. Not accepting ‘good enough’ can rob us of our sanity.  It can cause us to miss deadlines or go over budget. Not accepting ‘good enough’ can create a lot of stress and anxiety.
For me — “Good Enough’ is still at a pretty high level (although after many years I have learned to plant my garden without measuring the placement of every plant or string lining the rows – apparently it doesn’t make a difference to the plants).


This Week

To my fellow perfectionists:
  • Heed the advice of Napoleon Hill – a pretty smart guy.
  • Think about your ‘Good Enough’  
  • Keep your high standards at a realistic level – ‘good enough’.
  • Give yourself permission to be just a little bit less perfect. 
. . . go have an Awesome Week
Tom Trabue