Perfect Is Too Expensive


In a recent post about going live on YouTube, I mentioned the often-drawn-out process involved in turning dreams into reality. And that drawn-out process occurs only if we’re lucky. The alternative is that whatever we were working on never materializes or quickly gets mothballed.

If you’re like me, what I see as an outcome in my mind’s eye needs to be perfect. And that need for perfection sometimes keeps me “stuck” in a constant loop of “I’ll be ready once I…” It can keep me from taking that critical first step that moves a dream towards reality.

I usually eventually do take that first step, but that’s not saying much because by the time I do, I’ve usually wasted a considerable chuck of time (sometimes it’s days, sometimes weeks, sometimes even months or years). That chunk of time usually correlates with how big of a deal I think the project is.

As I mentioned in that post, when I set the goal to go on YouTube, I expected to be up and running at the beginning of the year. I read up on the necessary software in the Fall of 2017 and also purchased the equipment I needed to be ready to go early in the year. I even reserved a few different YouTube channels to make sure I had the names safe and sound and ready for me.

I'm good to go, right?

In January, I started filming, and filming, and filming. I filmed a total of 48 videos up to and including last week. 

And my total uploads so far? One. I’m even surprised I have one up. 

What’s amazing to me is that I really want this. Yet, I’m still whatiffing myself to death. I’m in a constant state of worry about one or more of the following:

  • I’m worried about the implications of success—am I committing to something that will become a HUGE obligation, displacing other things I want to be doing?
  • I’m concerned about whether I’ll manage to keep going and whether I’ll feel like an idiot if I don’t
  • I’m worried about stretching myself too thin by trying to do it all.
  • I wonder about the amount of effort I need to put into the product (filming raw footage, editing, learning the ins and outs of video-based Social Media)

And this is from someone who’s constantly expanding her comfort zone in all sorts of areas. So I know I can’t be alone in this. 

Enter Jon Acuff. His book "Finish" came to the rescue, assuring me that I’m in good company. It just so happens that part of the human condition, at least based on his we are raised in North America, is to want to take on too much by seeking to:

  • Set a perfect-sounding goal
  • Execute on it with precision
  • Achieve or exceed what we set out to do

Anything less than a flawless execution is simply not acceptable. And, if we falter at any point, there’s no point in continuing. We may as well throw in the towel if we're not going to be able to give ourselves an A+.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I figured as much.

I can think of many projects that have gone by the wayside because of this type of thinking.

And it’s a shame. 

Luckily, I can say that not all my projects have gone the way of the dodo, but a fair number of them have. That said, they don’t have to reach the same fate going forward.

What I need to remember is that my worst critic of all is little ol' me, at least in the moment. I say in the moment because I never seem to regret having tried something new or having taken on a project in the past, even if I ultimately abandoned it.

Goals you refuse to chase don’t disappear—they become ghosts that haunt you.
— Jon Acuff, "Finish" (2017), p. 189.

What I also need to remember is how much it stinks to reminisce about the things I didn’t pull the trigger on because early mess ups made me throw in the towel (usually just when things were getting interesting).

Perfection's Hefty Price

The illusion of some perfect delivery just beyond our reach doesn’t just sabbotage how we feel about our performance when we try to better ourselves or try something new. 

That feeling of doubt that we can actually follow through can materially affect our performance:

  • Wanting to save $500/month and only saving $400/month becomes a failure, as opposed to realizing we managed to save a cool $400, which puts us closer to where we want to be than before. So we quit and stop setting money aside. Yet, that $400 would have added up to close to $5,000 by year’s end!!!
  • Wanting to lose 20lbs and only losing 5lbs makes us feel like the process is useless, but we’re better off than we were before starting our weight loss journey. So we stop focusing on nutrition and gain the 5lbs back. Meanwhile, doing what worked to lose the 5lbs could add up to much more success by just sticking with what was working. It might even get us to that elusive 20lb weight loss over time.
  • Deciding to ask for a 20% salary increase and only getting 15% when we had no intention of looking for another job turns into a failure, when that 15% can be put to good use and is money we didn’t have access to before making the request. But that 5% that’s “missing” becomes the killjoy, outweighing the significant increase that we successfully secured.

Perfection makes us “glass-not-full” thinkers, never mind half full. Worse yet, it can make us why-bother-trying-to-fill-the-glass-in-the-first-place thinkers. 

That’s just too high of a price to pay. Talk about a negative return on invested effort!

The less that people aimed for perfect, the more productive they became.
— Jon Acuff, "Finish" (2017), p. 4.

I’m really going to watch myself this year. I need to kick a serious amount of perfectionist thinking to the curb and focus on what has gone my way as opposed to what's missing according to a made-up measure of success that I have determined matters for some reason.

I need to get out of my head and, based on the dismal success rate of New Year’s resolutions, it sounds like I’m in good company.

There’s no better time than the present to start getting over ourselves, and do some pretty good stuff as a result. 

What do you think?

Image credit/copyright, in order of appearance: alex_ugalek and namakuki /

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