You want your colleagues to see you as vital and hopefully indispensable which means you work very hard to get things right.  But are you working towards excellence or perfection?

Excellence means something stands out because it is well done.  It achieves its goals. This is true of projects and people. Perfection is an unachievable standard that sets you and those around you up for failure because it cannot, by definition, be reached. Seeking the elusive and impossible is not a good use of your resources – personal or professional. Those who want perfection tend to struggle with accepting help or delegating because they are concerned that the work of others is never up to their standards.  Frequently, perfectionists don’t even believe their own work meets their standards, making them work even harder, never feeling success.

Sometimes, we can’t help but measure ourselves against a mythical Perfect – what we believe others are doing easily and flawlessly – and when we do, we have to fall short. Missing that mark leads to feelings of self-doubt which was the topic of last week’s blog, as well as losing self-confidence.  All of which adds stress and keeps you from stepping out of your comfort zone and being a leader.

Jane Perdue says Perfection = an Overrated Waste of Effort.  She observes that it’s boring.  Of course, it is. Imperfections make life interesting. To counter your pursuit of perfection, she propounds nine ways it is overrated.

  1. Most people don’t recognize perfection when they see it. Others won’t recognize that something you created is perfect in your eyes. Of course, the opposite is true as well.  You see the flaws in your creation, but others don’t. Although it sounds counter-intuitive – perfect should be perfect—there isn’t one standard of perfection.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is perfection. Excellence is easy to recognize because a goal has been reached.
  2. Lost opportunity cost. How much time did you lose fixing that display? Working hard to line the books up perfectly? Walking away and going back just to move one part of it a hairline differently? Think about what you didn’t get to as a result of spending time on something that was already excellent and you’ll start to see the cost of perfectionism. It can keep us from having the time we need for the other goals on our plan.
  3. Miss out on simple joys. Those seeking perfection have less time to do the things that matter –like enjoy life. Life is messy and definitely not perfect. Perdue notes it’s “hard to look perfect eating an ice cream cone outside on a hot summer day.” But it’s fun. Having fun makes you light-hearted – and accessible. It gives you a happy mindset that makes other people want to be with you and that is important if you are building and maintaining relationships. Being messy can bring people closer to you.
  4. Present as narrow-minded. If you are looking for perfection, there is only one right way in your mind. Which means what other people do/say is wrong. You may not realize it, but that’s the message perfectionists send.  It’s intimidating and isolating, and it will work against you when trying to collaborate.
  5. Perfectionism feeds sex and gender stereotypes. We know from mass media what a “perfect” woman’s body is like. We know that not only is there “no crying in baseball,” but real men don’t cry either. Perfectionism is limiting and narrow   Embracing the diversity in others and accepting our imperfections creates better relationships which make the library a safe, welcoming space for all.
  6. Being perfect doesn’t automatically provide approval and affirmation. As you can see from the first things on the list, it is more likely to put people off which is ironic since usually people strive for perfection the hopes of gaining approval or positive notice. Your being perfect will not make others like you or create the willingness to work with you. It’s providing others with what they need, being open to them and their challenges which will bring support and cooperation.
  7. Perfectionism will make you sick. In striving hard to be perfect, you wear yourself out. Perfectionism dramatically increases stress, and the worst part is most of it is self-imposed. Depression is a potential result (due in part to the isolationism that goes with perfectionism) as is high blood pressure and poor eating habits.
  8. Fuel negative emotions. What happens when you can’t and don’t measure up to your standards? Self-doubt takes over. The negative noise in your head gets louder and your confidence plummets. In comes the Imposter Syndrome telling you others will see you aren’t worthy. It’s a deadly spiral that can only end once you step away from the lure of perfectionism.
  9. Consumed and paralyzed by fear. When perfect is your goal, you are more likely to fear trying something new because you worry you won’t be able to do it perfectly. You read of what others are doing in their libraries, but you prefer to stick with the tried-and-true because you know how to do that.  If you’re not growing, your program will lag behind and stand a greater chance of being eliminated.

Hopefully, some of the things on this list will help you notice if you’ve made perfect your goal.  When you hold yourself to some imaginary standard of perfectionism, you are more likely to hold yourself back from becoming a leader because taking risks and trying new things become nearly impossible. We are imperfect beings.  In striving for improvement and excellence we learn and grow. We accept our faults and failures as steps along our journey, and by doing so serve as a model for our students.

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