Confident people strive for excellence. Insecure people fixate on perfection
By Amyk Hutchens
Quite a few mixed messages bombard my computer screen every day. Tweets announce “good enough is better than nothing,” “your body needs a break” and “don’t do anything that makes you miserable.” These collide with Facebook and LinkedIn posts that “true warriors never quit” and “great achievement requires great sacrifice.” And then there’s the motivational email that wormed its way into my inbox just this morning: “Your level of success is determined by your level of discipline and perseverance.”
Is Voltaire’s warning that “perfect is the enemy of the good” my mantra today? Or should I scroll down to the stock inspirational message, superimposed in a myriad of fonts atop photos of people climbing really big mountains? “Only extraordinary efforts yield extraordinary results,” indeed. Ugh. And that’s typed by a girl who loves to hike!
So many entrepreneurs are burned out, exhausted and plain-old weary and leery of being told to down another energy drink, get off their butts and play harder. Rah-rah! Guzzle! Grunt!
It all leaves me with some flummoxing questions: Should this be a five-hour work week or an 85-hour one? Is my effort this week good enough? “Good enough?” is the question we find ourselves asking a lot lately. There are several facets to this question — personal and professional, deep and shallow. Is this relationship good enough, or am I settling? Is this solution good enough to get us by, or are we under-delivering and underserving our clients? Are these gifts good enough, or am I being cheap?
Do I give a rat’s derriere? When you peel back all the layers, two core questions drive all the self doubt:
What’s my level of commitment?
What’s the level of import?
1. What’s my level of commitment?
Let’s start with a low dose of devotion. Did you say yes to a task when you wanted to say no? So many people agree externally even while they’re inwardly hesitant (and maybe even cringing at the thought). Are you so tired of all the nitpicky changes that you’re mentally and emotionally over this project and hear yourself whining instead of celebrating the mini-wins along the way? If you were rich enough, you might delegate or hire away the tasks that make you miserable. In other words, are you a lazy sloth, a resentful toad or a pain in the ass?
A matter of devotion.
When you’re not passionate about certain tasks or initiatives, you must stop saying yes. You need to either beg off in the first place or seek out someone who can bring more expertise and passion for the project. Making a match with someone who’s more eager to go beyond “good enough” is a very kind act indeed — for everyone involved.
On the other hand, a deep dose of devotion brings its own danger: a quest for an unreachable standard of perfection. Suppose you and your team have made a series of changes and tweaks to prepare for a product launch, but your crazy-high standards make you believe it still isn’t good enough. Do you obsess over the fact that if you don’t give 150 percent of your soul, you’ll fail the world and everyone in it? Probably. And this level of dissatisfaction is dangerous.
When “good enough” is still not good enough — even after the eighth round of edits — and everyone on your team is threatening to walk out, you need to ask some hard questions. Is your criteria aligned with your deepest beliefs and values? Does it reflect truly healthy standards?
If you answer yes, then trust your gut. Re-commit and put one last, good-faith effort into the task. But if you’re chasing an unhealthy, perfect ideal, you must reassess why excellence itself falls short. Not good enough, you say. For whom? A critical caretaker in your primary years? An overinflated ego and sense of self? Or perhaps an insecurity left over from endless comparisons to others?
More pointedly and personally, are you putting forth considerably more effort into a task than is rationally justified? If you can admit to this, try to find the why. Are you super passionate because it’s a joy to produce a superior result, or is your internalized critical parent harping at you over your shoulder? When we stop and ask, “What’s driving my obsession to get this just right?” we can more honestly evaluate if the project is good enough.
2. What’s the level of import?
Neurosurgeons can’t settle for mediocrity, construction crews can’t build structures that crumble, and accountants can’t pass off “good enough” calculations in budget. Winging it or giving less than their best isn’t an option, and the brain-surgery patient really appreciates the physician’s precision.
Perceptions of value.
The standards above don’t apply to the slide-deck visual you’ve swapped out eight times. Good enough! (Perfectionists are squirming right now.) To better discern import, ask yourself this powerful question: “Will today’s level of effort matter tomorrow?” Then expand it. What about two months from now? One or even 10 years from now? Consistent parenting and follow-through on punishments truly matters to your teen’s long-term development, but experienced parents let go of the more trivial matters of the day.
There’s an inverse to this gut check too, and it concerns the risks when too many things lack import. Have you become arrogant about a project’s level of importance in your life compared to how other people perceive its worth? Are you feeling or acting defensive about putting forth a less-than-par effort? And why, exactly, are you no longer giving this task more intellectual, physical and emotional energy?
Perhaps you are rebelling against an external authority figure or internal critical dictator. Maybe your values truly don’t align with others’ perspectives on the importance of this task. Or maybe you’re just now realizing the job at hand isn’t so important in the bigger scheme of life. Therein lies your power to see clearly if “good enough” in this moment is indeed good enough.
Feelings of resentment.
When an initiative consumes too much of your time, energy and resources, it creates resentment. Sometimes a project insidiously invades your life, and you no longer can feel grateful for the opportunity to contribute. When this happens, you need to invest in some serious inner reflection. You might feel resentful because you’re actually lazy and bit off more than you anticipated, only to have it impact your playdates. Perhaps you’re suddenly understanding that you’ve been fixated on less important matters and now you know it’s time to move on to your true priorities. It’s quite possible you’ve discovered this project doesn’t align with your values, or it could really be good enough in its current state.
Entrepreneurs know too well that mediocrity is one of the most subversive elements in business. When team members, direct reports and bosses operate on autopilot, it’s certainly not good enough. It’s damaging to productivity, partnerships, progress and profitability. On the flip side of the coin, perfectionism is another subversive component. If “good enough” will get you to market faster but you or your colleagues establish perfection as the goal, you’ll be outpaced and outplayed by competitors.
Related: The Perfect Product Is a Myth. Here’s How to Scale the Almost-Perfect Product.
Clarity of purpose.
Last but not least, the most destabilizing not-good-enough of all: “Am I good enough?”
Do you believe you’re skilled enough to lead this startup? Strong enough to lead this team? Smart enough to get another round of funding or savvy enough to make it all work? If you’re doubting your own abilities to make a difference and produce a tangible, profitable outcome, remember this: Giving 100 percent is designed around delivering excellence, not perfection.
At the end of the day, “good enough” is about clarity — clarity in your values, clarity in your beliefs and clarity in your standards of excellence. Committing to excellence for truly important matters allows you to shine and live out your most brilliant potential. And that is definitely good enough!