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  • Writer's pictureAlan Shoebridge

Breaking the cycle: Knowing when ‘good enough’ is better than perfect

Perfect is the enemy of the good. We’ve all heard some version of that advice. Yet, we often fail to heed it with predictably negative results ensuing. Disappointment and disillusionment being the most common. Don’t let this happen to you. Fight it.

I was thinking about our unhealthy obsession with perfection while recently surfing LinkedIn. This is what I saw people doing:

  • Dismissing solutions because they only make minor progress to solving a major problem.

  • Looking for the “perfect” job.

  • Looking to hire the “perfect” candidate for a job – often called searching for a unicorn.

I’m betting those sound familiar.

🤔 Why is this a problem?

Simply put, it’s because perfection stops progress.

When I reflect on my career, most of my progress has come from small wins. Incremental changes. To use a baseball analogy, I’ve hit a lot more singles and doubles than home runs.

The quest for perfection also comes with downsides. For instance, studies have shown that perfectionists are more likely to:

  • Experience work-related stress and burnout.

  • Have difficulty delegating tasks and working with others.

  • Be seen as demanding and inflexible by colleagues.

  • Miss deadlines and make mistakes.

  • Have low productivity and job dissatisfaction.

“In the extreme, the consequences of perfectionism are dire. Working for a perfectionist often comes with punishing micromanagement, a demand for perfect answers, decision and action paralysis, procrastination, and demoralization of direct reports and colleagues.” - Fred Harburg from The Dark Side of the Drive for Flawlessness.

Perfectionism also impacts those closest to you. Another insight from Harburg:

“Perfectionism doesn't stop by eroding performance at work. Perfectionists are predisposed to harsh judgments of spouses, friends, and partners. No one enjoys the judgment of others. Compulsive zealots see themselves as ‘results-oriented,’ and they are — to the detriment of focusing on what causes results and to the expense of relationships.”

💡 Reflections on progress

People a lot smarter – and much more famous – than me have opined on this subject. Some examples:

Far be it from me to disagree with that group of high achievers!

👇 The bottom line

This isn’t a call for mediocrity or to say that we shouldn’t try to make our work great. We should. High standards are important, but perfect is an illusion. It’s an impossible standard.

Knowing when to accept good, really good, or great instead of perfect is the antidote. Here are three simple steps experts suggest for those prone to perfectionism:

  1. Set realistic goals and expectations.

  2. Focus on your strengths and accomplishments, rather than your weaknesses.

  3. Take breaks and ask for help.

It’s vital to recognize when perfectionism is hindering progress. To keep things moving forward, sometimes you just have to get out of the way!


💻 Go deeper on this topic

Here are some suggestions for additional reading:

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