The cost of perfection
AMAR PRIDED himself on being a perfectionist. In many senses of the word, he was one. He was constantly driven by the compulsion to win, and at the same time be perfect in every aspect of his work. He continually set exceedingly high standards and ambitious goals for himself - even a minor failure could depress him for days. Result? For all his intelligence, hard work and drive, Amar never reached the heights he dreamt of.
The question here, of course, is why? Research has shown that people who try to be perfectionists suffer from severe bouts of procrastination and are consequently often unable to achieve their goals. Misplaced perfectionism can prove to be a fatal flaw indeed. To quote a cliché, perfectionists like Amar tend to miss the wood for the trees. In an attempt to do everything perfectly, regardless of its importance, they spend so much time and effort on inconsequential matters that they often end up missing important deadlines and targets.
The kind of perfectionism that sabotages instead of supports is based on things we think we `should' do or achieve, rather than what is realistic. So rather than trying to work towards perfection, focus on working towards success.
Develop the ability to set priorities. Before you start on a project or an assignment, decide on its importance and the time within which it has to be accomplished. Prioritise your work and determine tasks that require minimum or maximum effort. Choose to put less effort on less important tasks and exert yourself where it can give you the greatest benefits.
Perfectionists are often driven by the fear that if they relax or let go, someone else may better them. What so frequently happens as a result of this is that all the fun is lost of what can otherwise be a perfectly enjoyable activity. Base your goals on your own expectations and desires, instead of comparing them with the next person.
Make sure your goals are realistic. A key problem with perfectionists is that they set goals that are by nature doomed for failure. Experiment with your standards for success. Once you reach a certain standard or goal, set your next target just a wee bit higher than your present level of accomplishment. A gradual increase in standards will help you set realistic goals based on your limits and abilities.
Work with an eye on the deadline. Set time frames for all your tasks and subtasks. Focus on finishing the job well within the deadline, and use the time left over for rechecking and fine-tuning rather than getting bogged down in minutiae along the way. Determine the consequences, both positive and negative, of using a less exacting approach. Find out if there are easier and less rigorous ways to reach your goals. Is it necessary that you do the job yourself or all that matters is that the job gets done? If it is the latter case, you could delegate part of the work to your subordinates or colleagues, while you concentrate on the bigger picture.
Understand that mistakes will happen despite your best efforts. In fact, most things in life can only be learnt from mistakes. Think of all the positive things you have learnt from the experience.
The quest for perfectionism can rob you of a sense of personal satisfaction and self worth; you end up feeling like a failure, even if you are actually good. There may be a handful of perfectionists among those who are successful, but then success is evaluated not only in terms of what you have accomplished but also in terms of how much you have enjoyed yourself. After all, the process of pursuing a goal is just as valuable as the end result.
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