“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people,” writes Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.
It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.
If you’re an aspiring writer, do you wait to read yet another book on writing before you eventually write that blogpost, memoir, or white paper?
Do you tell yourself you need a perfect website before you launch that business?
Are you a manager that insists on doing “just one more” analysis all the time?
Do you generally find it difficult to identify the point where enough is actually enough?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions then I need to talk to you, and this time it’s personal.
See, the answer to success is not to wait for the perfect opportunity to come along. It is to turn whatever opportunity exists right now into the outcome of your dreams.
And oh! Perfectionism is a joke and most of us who claim to be perfectionists are merely disguising cowardice as perfectionism. But
Why You Want to Start From “Perfect”
There are many reasons why we want perfection immediately, but I’d hate to sound like a professor in a psychology class so I’ve pruned them down to two reasons that we all can relate to:
1. You Know too Many People.
And you care too much about what they think of you and that’s probably why you sabotage yourself.
Imagine taking a test that no one knows about and you flunk. No big deal, you’ll probably just promise yourself to retake it and try harder next time around. But if you take the same test and flunk; but this time around a lot of people know about it. How would you feel? Terrible? I thought as much.
We all hate failure, and rightfully so. There’s nothing particularly comforting about failure. When we fail we feel bad, we lose self-respect, and people look down on us. So in an attempt to insulate ourselves from failure we play it safe, we do things that are uneventful, “unrisky” and ultimately unproductive. In fact, the fear of failure can sometimes be so immobilizing that it prevents us from doing anything, and when we try to act this fear causes us to undermine our own efforts.
When embarking on a creative endeavor and finding yourself worrying about what people might say about your failure, so much so that it prevents you from starting, then, if possible, keep the endeavor a secret from people. It’s better that way – especially if they’re toxic people who will rub your failures in your face.
It turns out that the fewer the people who know about our failure the less devastated we are and the more willing we are to try again.
2. Information Bias
As humans we have this tendency to seek more “information”, we feel we need to know more before we are ready to take action. We somehow convince ourselves we need to read just one more book, attend one more seminar or do one more analysis.
This is information bias.
It’s a type of cognitive bias that describes the tendency to seek information when it does not affect action.
As Shreya Dalela explains:
“We can spend all our lives reading books and articles about what we need to do. And we can tell ourselves that it’s the same as taking action.
But taking action is about creation not consumption.
Remember, more information is not always better. There’s so much you already know. You can easily start by taking action on that.”
What You Should Do Instead of Striving for Perfectionism
“Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right’. Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command and better tools will be found as you go along.”― Napoleon Hill
Whatsapp, the world’s foremost instant messaging app, started as a tool that only shows status updates next to people’s phone numbers in an address book. The statuses would show if the person was available, away, the battery was low, etc. — it wasn’t perfect, at least not yet. It had a clunky and unattractive interface and only worked on iPhones.
But guess what? As imperfect as it was, they launched it anyway and as they received criticisms and feedback over time they incorporated instant messaging into it.
If they had waited for the perfect time, Whatsapp wouldn’t be here today.
“A bad page can be edited a blank page can’t be edited” — Jodi Picoult
Instagram, the most popular and most widely used photo app in the world, was first named Burbn, a pretty basic app that lets users check-in to locations, make future plans with acquaintances, earn points for hanging out with friends, and post pictures.
Kevin Systrom, Instagram’s co-founder and the man who built Burbn, had no formal computer science training. He learned coding by working at nights after his day job and on weekends.
His first prototype was nowhere near perfect, in fact, to be frank, it was pretty awful and had no branding elements or design whatsoever. But guess what? He sent it out nonetheless to a group of friends who became his first set of users.
He received feedback and kept working to make the desired improvements, along the line he secured funding from investors, and employed Mike Krieger as an engineer who later became his co-founder. And after a lot of brainstorming, they decided to declutter Burbn to reveal what we know today as Instagram. And now the rest, as they say, is history.
What’s my point? Nobody started from “perfect” … Heck, some like Burbn even started from flat-out awful. But they all worked their way to “perfect” and most of them wouldn’t even agree they have reached perfection yet.
So please start, if you wait for the perfect time you’ll end up waiting for the rest of your life.
The world is counting on you, whatever it is you want to ship out the door. I’m hoping you’ll ship it and then perfect it as you move forward.