Perfect is the enemy of done

My boyfriend and I rent a cubicle in the coworking office nearby. To feel more at home, he’s hung a few things on the cubicle wall – including a picture I made on a painting class last year. It was my first painting on canvas ever, and while it might look pleasant from a certain distance, a closer glance reveals all kinds of rookie mistakes, including some very unfortunate trees.
This could have been a really nice landscape painting…
It’s not easy to concentrate on my work with this painting hanging always there in front of my eyes. Perhaps I can take it back home and fix it? Sometimes I feel quite ashamed to have it hung in a prominent place in the office, visible to people I don’t know.
Yet Artur says he truly likes this picture, despite all of its flaws. If I am to take it down, he says, I’d better bring another one I feel more comfortable with.
I’m still yet to start painting that another one. A blank canvas or sheet of paper are extremely scary. Almost as scary as a canvas that’s filled in not well enough.
The same fear paralyses me when it comes to blogging. I’d love to write about the big, scary, important stuff and never seem to find the right words for it that don’t sound trivial. Then I come across a perfect version of the blog post I’ve tried to write for months, and immediately give up. (You should totally read that post by the way. This is precisely the thing I would write if I was skilled and experienced enough).
A drive for perfection can sometimes be an advantage, especially at work. It pushes me to dig really deep into certain topics, far beyond what most people would do. This lets me understand the big picture and root cause of every problem, and find a solution that’s good both for short and long term.
On the other hand, the time I take to find that one perfect solution would be sufficient to find two good enough ones. I don’t know what is balance between quality and quantity. I take too long to solve each problem, and then work overtime to avoid being a burden to my colleagues. After all, they have to deal with all the customers I didn’t have time to reach to.
It’s easier to spend an hour researching a topic, than to risk sending a solution that’s simply not right. It’s easier to write or paint nothing, than to write or paint stuff I might not be so proud of. It’s easier to spend the entire life reading about the awesome stuff people do, than to try something new and suck at it.
I find it extremely hard to feel comfortable around things I did imperfectly, and it’s a creativity killer. You can’t start anything new without making a few mistakes along the way. If everything you do has to be perfect, you will never get anything meaningful done. Most probably, the fear of making mistakes will let you only do stuff that’s easy, boring and repetitive.
I love how Leo Babauta of ZenHabits put this into words:
Uncertainty, and the fear and discomfort that arises from uncertainty, will always be there, unless you’re doing something you absolutely know how to do (like watching TV, checking Facebook or playing games).
I guess I should keep the painting on our cubicle wall for now. Maybe one day it will make me feel proud of how much I’ve learned. Especially to feel comfortable with my own imperfections.

3 responses to “Perfect is the enemy of done”

  1. Thanks for writing this Maria! I struggle with exactly the same thing myself both at work and my personal life. There is, however, an absolutely fantastic book that another a11n recommended me which helped me A LOT to stop procrastinating, reduce my fears of starting a new project and being overwhelmed by it because I want everything to be perfect:

    I strongly recommend reading this book to anyone who feels this way. It offers some really good techniques and makes you realize that you are not alone in your feelings and that it is very common among high achievers.

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