Fighting Perfection

While growing up, I was continually told by teachers, parents, and others to “do my best”. You may have experienced this as well. While this works great for tests and time sensitive tasks, there is a problem that can arise when this way of thinking is left unchecked by time.

At its core, the problem is “fear”, which looks like “procrastination”, which sounds better if I instead write “working the bugs out” or “adding a key feature”. Continually delaying releasing my work comes back to the idea of doing my best, because as I learn and grow, my best is always getting better, and there is the fear that if I don’t do my best, then others will think less of me.

Think of it this way. The best I had to offer when I was in first grade, could not even compare to when I was in sixth grade, which isn’t nearly as good as when I graduated from high school, or college, or hopefully in each year since then. The grading target moves as I get better, so I must always continue improving what I do.

When “doing my best” meets a “no deadlines” environment, launching a project or idea can easily be delayed until it hits the place where I feel it has become “the best I can do”. However, as I get better with each day that I focus on my goal’s tasks, the line that is “my best” keeps moving further.

The Enemy of “Doing My Best”

On the opposite extreme, we have “doing just enough to get by”. At the end of my 10th grade school year, I heard a teacher commenting about how too many kids were getting low grades — because they didn’t have assignments turned in. He made the statement that there shouldn’t be any reason for kids to not have ‘A’s and ‘B’s if they simply did the work — strongly implying that simply doing the task without extra effort or pushing for perfection would result in the grade.

I am not one to skip out on assignments, however this intrigued me, and so I started putting less and less effort into what I was doing — but still handing in assignments in on time — and I noticed very little change in the grade I was given at the end of each quarter. (Disclaimer: By the time I graduated from college, there were classes and teachers that this strategy did not work for, but the vast majority cared more about seeing an assignment turned in on time and less about its perfection. If you’re still in school, your results will vary.)

Doing “just enough to get by” will be enough to “just get by” in life. However, “just getting by” in life leaves us lost in the middle of a vast crowd. Only by doing something exceptional — way past of simply getting by — can we ever hope to stand out from the crowd.

A Happy Balance

We now have two extremes, where only getting by will never get us noticed in the 6-7 billion people on the planet, and doing our best will often result in delaying moving forward with our dreams and goals.

Where should we choose to place ourselves on this scale? Where do you often place yourself?

In the next post, I’ll compile ideas from our discussion here and share my thoughts on how to balance these two extremes. Be sure to leave your comment to be included next week!