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The Curse of Perfectionism

By tehconi | August 29, 2007

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Perfectionism is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, it can push you to strive for higher standards of achievement.  On the other hand, you can get stuck if you insist to make everything perfect before you produce a piece of work.  Worse, if you think that you have to be perfect before you try anything, you will never get around to doing it. 

I remember, in biology class some years ago, the teacher instructed us to sketch a certain specimen.  Many of my classmates were already starting to draw, but I was still staring at the specimen thinking how I should draw my first stroke.  After a while, my friend sitting next to me decided to help me out and started drawing on my piece of paper.  She told me to stop musing and just get started.  It didn’t have to be perfect, just get it going.  Just do it. 

I realise that I suffer from the curse of perfectionism.  Maybe that’s why I’m a “late developer” in some aspects of my life.  Sometimes I try to remind myself about this, but most of the time the perfectionism in me raises its ugly head and hides behind the guises of “high standards” and “I’m not doing it until I’m sure I can do it very very well”.   

It’s not wrong to expect high standards for myself and the work I produce.  However if it starts to affect the momentum and get you stuck, then it’s truly a curse.  Sometimes it may even result in “brainfreeze” where you get stuck on a certain point and you just can’t break through.  Much like a dog tied to a pole trying to free itself by running in circles.

Perfectionism can also affect your self-esteem because you are always comparing yourself to the high standard which you set for yourself.   When you are learning a new skill, it’s not possible to be perfect during the initial stage of learning.  So if you keep comparing your performance with the perfect score you imagine for yourself, you are going to get demotivated very quickly.  And that’s not going to help you in learning the skill. 

You don’t have to get it right.  You just have to get it going.

Do yourself a favor.  Don’t judge yourself the first 20 times you try to execute a new skill.

And as we progress along the learning curve, it’ll be worthwhile to remember the 80/20 rule and the law of diminishing returns as you try to perfect your work.

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