“Perfect is the enemy of good.” – Unknown
A common enough quote, but what does it actually mean?
Perfectionism is the road to disappointment and discontent. The perfectionist strives to erase every little possible thing that they can interpret as not being good enough. The problem is that nothing is ever perfect. It’s an unattainable goal.
Even worse, the perfectionist is the one that is most familiar with the project they are working on. So they will see flaws that no one else sees because no one else cares that much.
For the perfectionist, it’s rarely ever as simple as “I just want to do a good job.” Instead, the perfectionist is often overcompensating for some other aspect of themselves that isn’t in a healthy balance.
It might be a person with anxiety who fears their work being judged. They cling to the notion that their work must be perfect before it goes out into the world. But what they are doing is procrastinating. After all, a finished work will be judged on whether or not it’s good. But if they never finish the project, they can’t be judged because it’s still a work in progress.
The perfectionist might feel that criticism of their work is, in fact, a criticism of them as a person. So, they throw all of their energy into their project, making it a hugely personal part of themselves, and over-identify with the work. Criticism of the project then becomes a criticism of them as a person or their skill at whatever they are doing. So, they aim for perfection because they don’t want to be judged.
The truth of the matter is that no reasonable person is going to care nearly as much. They just aren’t. And while constructive criticism can help improve and grow, critics are often not worth listening to. They may not understand where you’re coming from or even be familiar with the thing they are criticizing. People are like that.
Good is often great because good means the project is actually completed. And that is why we should strive for excellence, not perfection. Excellence means we want to do a great job. So that is a worthy goal that everyone should strive for.
But how do you strive for excellence?
The following ten tips will help guide the way.
1. Know yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
The path to excellence is one you will blaze for yourself.
Yes, you can follow in the footsteps of others. There will be plenty of lessons and experiences you can borrow from other people to help you along the way.
But you are an individual. And only you can make the right decisions for your life, your projects, and whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish.
To make the best use of who you are as a person, you must understand yourself.
What are your strengths? How can they help you succeed? What gives you a unique edge to do something different? Do you have some special knowledge or experience that can help you succeed?
What are your weaknesses? How can they disrupt your plans? How can they prevent you from accomplishing your goals? What kind of support or resources do you need to bolster these weaknesses? Or better yet, turn them into strengths?
2. Set realistic goals to strive for.
Goals are of great help in pursuing excellence. They help you create the road map to your success. The SMART goal-setting system is a common, effective method for creating and evaluating goals.
SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Time-Bound.
The goal should be specific. For example, “I want to practice painting for an hour each day.” not “I want to be an artist.”
The goal should be measurable. It should have a point where you can say, “Yes, I accomplished this.” In this instance, either you paint an hour a day, or you don’t.
The goal should be actionable. Can you realistically paint for an hour a day? Do you have the time? Can you make the time?
The goal should be relevant. Do you really care about painting that much to dedicate the necessary time to it? Is this the thing you want to be doing with your free time?
The goal should be time-bound. An hour a day, every day.
3. Actually do the work.
Grand plans and goals are fine and all, but there is no replacement for doing the work. You have to sit down and actually do the work. There is no excellence or success without work.
And don’t make the mistake of thinking that pursuing excellence or your passion will be “fun.” There’s a pretty good chance it won’t be.
It takes real work to even be average at something. There aren’t any shortcuts that will get you around the work. Don’t procrastinate, don’t waste your time looking for shortcuts, don’t sit around daydreaming about when you’ll be successful. Do the work.
4. Take pride in your work.
Make excellence a habit. If you are going to spend your time doing something, do it to the best of your ability. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to write a story or sweeping a floor, by making excellence a habit, you are training yourself and your brain to reach a particular level of success.
That is something that you will take with you into other projects and habits in your life. It can mean being an excellent friend, partner, worker, artist, whatever.
Do the best you can, and you can always be satisfied, even if things don’t work out in the end.
5. Take care of your mental and physical health.
It’s hard to strive for excellence when constantly beating your body and mind down with unhealthy habits. Instead, aim for a healthier lifestyle, eat better, drink more water, and move your body. Your body is a machine that is meant to move. We spend so much time sitting in front of screens in sedentary lifestyles that it can drastically impact our well-being.
Self-care will help you keep your body and mind healthy, making it easier to think creatively and do the work. Striving for excellence will seem impossible if you’re feeling tired and lethargic all the time.
6. Continue to build your knowledge.
There’s always something new to learn. And while it is important to bring your own personal touch and flair to whatever you do, there is a world of knowledge and experience out there that you can draw from.
You don’t have to personally blaze all of your own trails. Instead, you can follow in the footsteps of other people who have come before you.
Often, that can get you much closer to excellence than trying to go it alone. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel when the wheel is already a perfect invention. Instead, build your knowledge, look for other perspectives, take what works for you and discard the rest.
7. Evaluate yourself and your work.
Are you regularly checking in on yourself and your work. Are you satisfied with the progress of your goal? Are you putting in enough work?
What is lacking currently? What can get you closer to calling this project complete and being done with it? Is there anything? Or do you just need to stay the course until you get to where you’re going?
8. Make adjustments to bring yourself closer to your goal.
Sometimes the sailor needs to readjust his sails to catch the most favorable winds to bring him closer to his port-of-call, or in your case, your goal.
You will inevitably pick up on things that are working and not working for you as you sail toward your goal. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments along the way. You don’t have to stick to the original plan or goal if you find it’s not working for you.
In fact, many people find success after a well-considered pivot. Pivot, in this context, is a business-y word that is often used to communicate this kind of shift in goal. You reach a point where you realize something isn’t working, but you see something over here to the side that is working, so you shift your attention to that goal instead.
This is also why people say things like, “Failure is just a step on the path to success.” You can look at failure as an end, or you can see it as a signpost that you need to change directions. Failure becomes a lot less scary when you look at it as a learning experience.
9. Seek feedback from a trustworthy source.
Feedback from a trustworthy source can be so helpful in reaching excellence. For example, an experienced mentor can provide guidance and feedback that you wouldn’t typically get from a fan or someone close to you.
Do yourself a huge favor, and don’t seek critical feedback from friends and family. You’re putting them in a crappy position where they may decide to lie to you to save your feelings because you put in all this work on this thing, and they don’t want to discourage you. You’re really hopeful that it’s good, but it still needs work. And they don’t want to tell you that because they don’t want to bring you down. That won’t help you succeed.
Instead, hook up with internet communities involved in the thing that you are trying to accomplish. Seek feedback there if you don’t have anyone in your life that you feel you can get real feedback from.
But do remember to take all opinions and advice with a heavy dose of salt and skepticism. Not all advice is good.
10. Decide when to end the project.
Decide a definitive end to the project. Don’t use obscure things like your feelings to dictate when it’s done. Your feelings may never give you the approval that you’re looking for, particularly if you are someone who struggles with your own self-esteem or self-worth.
Let me give you a personal example to illustrate what I mean. I, the writer, have been working as a content writer for over a decade now. I follow the same process for every article.
Second draft with assistance from a grammar checker.
Like many writers and artists, I could sit and fiddle with my work for hours in a quest for perfection. But, the truth of the matter is that it will never be perfect. It can’t be because I am not a perfect person. I don’t expect myself to be perfect because I know it’s an impossible standard to live up to.
And even if I did somehow manage to reach a stage of absolute perfection in my own eyes, it may be entirely irrelevant to you as a reader. You may read a thing I think is perfect and say, “Well, hey, this isn’t very good.” In that scenario, perfect only matters for my ego and pride. It stops being about serving you as a reader trying to find a way to turn unhealthy perfectionism into healthy excellence.
Give yourself permission to be human. You’re allowed to not be perfect. Do the best you can. You won’t always succeed, and that’s okay.
Don’t be perfect, be excellent.
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