Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Curious about Perfection: Does Perfection Drive You?

On my “Portfolio Career” Self-Test, I include the statement, “I am not driven by perfection.” It is surprising to me how many people who take the test, give this a low score. I did have another test taker wonder how this statement applied to the handling of a “Portfolio Career” (many careers at the same time).

I have learned, and often the hard way, that you do want to be picky and always strive to be the best, but if you never complete anything, because nothing is ever perfect, you are hurting yourself, your work and your business.

Many years ago I purchased an older, two story house in disrepair and hired an accomplished contractor to do the major rehabilitation. I had just finished studio art classes at Kent State in pursuit of an MFA. It had been drummed into me - and also worked for me - that the artist who took the time to do the extra finishing and polishing to a work of art, usually won the prize and distinguished them self and their work from others.

So when I mentioned something not quite right about the finishing of a portion of the house, my contractor looked me straight in the eye and said, “Chris, you have to remember that no one is perfect.” How true!

Gustave Flaubert wrote, “Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.”

You see, if we wait until everything is perfect, we will always be waiting. I know. I have used up hours and hours of time, trying to tweak the design of a website until it looks exactly the way I want it, only to discover that on a different computer, with a different browser, it doesn’t look at all the way I planned it.

In his timely fashion, one of my favorite motivators, Michael Angier, wrote this about perfection in today’s e-newsletter, “Most projects can be fiddled with, tweaked, polished and revised to the point where they never actually get done. For many people, this can be a way to keep from failing. If the book, thesis or work of art is always in progress, then no one will judge it. What looks like a desire for perfection is often simply fear of failure.” You will find him and a place to sign up for one of the few newsletters I have kept coming into my mailbox at

So, let’s ask ourselves, “Are we or are we not driven by perfection? And why or why not?” I do feel that those of us who are willing to put ourselves out there for the world to see and know us, are taking a risk. And we are often pushed, because of this, to try to make everything perfect.

However, I suggest that we heed the words of Debra Messing, “When you're passionate about something, you want it to be all it can be. But in the endgame of life, I fundamentally believe the key to happiness is letting go of that idea of perfection.”

Not easy to do, but, as I learned when under deadline as a newspaper editor, that my readers would have been much more upset to not have a paper than by receiving one that wasn’t completely perfect (mind you, I still tried to make it as “perfect” as I could and still come in under deadline).