How Perfection Leads to Failure, and Failure Leads to Perfection.Posted: January 31, 2012
Make no mistake about it: as guys we like collecting tools. This can be seen in our fascination with tech gadgets, sport gear for whatever activity we aspire to, as well as learning tools such as books, CD/DVD courses and seminars. There is something in the masculine problem-solving psyche that causes men to be obsessed with not only collecting tools, but having the perfect tool instantly accessible for any contingency. Unfortunately many guys get so caught up in having the right tools for the job that they never even get to the job at hand. There is always one more device to acquire, one more book to read, one more thing to know, and THEN they will have everything they need to succeed. Meanwhile the sands of time continue to fall and their life is passing them by.
Sound familiar? Is your garage full of top-notch gear for an activity that you have rarely, if ever, done? Do you have more books, e-books, audio programs and instructional DVDs (perhaps some never cracked opened) than you could possibly go through in your lifetime? Do you feel like you have to acquire “just one more ____” before you can move forward with any given task? Sure, there are some jobs that require precise tools, and it is nice to have a whole garage or library of them at hand to solve any problem at any moment, but waiting to acquire them before taking action is not the path to success but rather a form of procrastination known as perfection paralysis.
At the root of perfection paralysis is a fear of failure and the corresponding self-criticism that tells you whatever you do will not be quite good enough. The perfectionist believes “until everything is perfect I can’t get started and show myself to the world” and “if I don’t have everything perfect I will fail.” So instead of stepping into the unknown the perfectionist attempts to buffer the path with tools that would seem to ease his way. The harder the task seems, the more collecting required to give him the leg up. The problem with this way of thinking is that even if you do have everything perfect, there is a still good chance that you will fail. Worse yet, this cautious behavior makes you more prone to failure because you are less likely to ever get off the ground in the first place. By waiting for perfection before you act, you have a built-in excuse to fail when it never arrives. It is a case of being so afraid to lose that you never give yourself the chance to win.
The danger of perfection paralysis is that by failing to get into the game you deprive yourself of the learning lessons that you only get by playing on the field. There are scenarios that no amount of preparation or training can help you overcome. You cannot plan for every contingency, and even if you could you’d never get the chance to utilize those plans because you would have spent all your time making them. The world is constantly in flux and problems evolve just as quickly as creative solutions do. It is often the need for a creative solution that leads us to some of our greatest assets and breakthroughs. The fact is there are far more stories of success that follow a string of failures than ones that come after carefully calculated preparation. That’s not to say I have an aversion to preparation and only expect you to improvise your way through life. Not at all, but preparation is subject to the law of diminishing returns: the more time you spend doing it, the fewer benefits you gain along the way. You simply cannot afford to obsess over your preparation at the cost of failing to progress toward your primary intention.
The reality is that success is much more about your mental attitude and willingness to push yourself forward than it has anything to do with tools of the trade. Perfection is more often an obstacle in your path than an attainable option. Instead, learn to embrace failure as part of the process, a necessary step on your road to success that you must push yourself through. The more you fail, the more you must be putting yourself on the line and challenging yourself. By doing so and experiencing these challenges you learn, grow and become more resilient. Mistakes are going to happen regardless, so the sooner you get them out of the way the closer you will be to achieving your goal. It is important to remember that the more you do something the easier it becomes, and the further your brain is programmed for succeeding in that task. Paradoxically this is not only is this the path to success, but also the path toward perfection. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”, not “be perfect before you practice”.
Instead of waiting around for elusive perfection, search for excellence in your endeavors. It is far better to have 90% of perfection (in other words, excellence) than 100% of nothing. This is not settling, but rather creating momentum that will thrust you toward your goal like a rocket. The cost is much less as well, for it may only take 10% of your effort to reach your 90% goal, but to achieve that last 10% leading to perfection it very likely will take the other 90% of your efforts, and that is simply bad resource management. Even if you are uncertain what excellence is, just get something down, then get it right. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you can get it right, especially when the alternative is putting off doing it at all. From there, it is much easier to determine what excellence means to you and whether or not it is worth your efforts.
Lastly, I will leave you with a quote from NBA great Michael Jordan that I think puts it all in perspective:
“I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I’ve almost lost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”
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