Here is one of the most persistent misconceptions that you'll encounter in almost every organization, high-performing, capable professionals do not make mistakes. Let's take a quick moment to analyze this misconception.
Often when we tackle a new project or are new to a role we can feel apprehensive and uncertain about how to successfully navigate this new space. We want to demonstrate our capability, and at the same time not commit any egregious errors.
When we couple this outlook with the pool of capable colleagues that we observe getting stellar results, we can adopt this misconception. To be capable is synonymous with perfection and anything less is an indication of failure.
Today, I want to break down this mindset, not only to highlight how counterproductive it can be but also to provide strategies to overcome it.
Perfectionism Creates Binary Outcomes
When our perspective is set to perfection, we can only see outcomes as win or lose, pass or fail. We lose one of the best approaches in tackling ambitious goals and that is iteration. There is unlikely to be one right solution for the challenges we face, and even if there were, executing it at the wrong place and time could limit effectiveness.
Whenever we embrace the possibility of failure but use the mindset of testing solutions on small scales to learn, we can start to limit the hold of perfectionism. We also set ourselves up to deliver a more comprehensive and flexible solution since it has been iterated and isn't delivered as one broad strategy.
Perfectionism Kills Collaboration
The fear of looking like we 'don't know what we are doing' can be crippling and isolating. On one hand, we know that one of the best ways to learn is through interacting with colleagues. However, wanting to be perceived as knowledgeable and competent may prevent us from asking the questions we need to learn.
This is where adjust our strategy to focus on feedback and service can be helpful. Feedback allows us to seek the expertise of our colleagues in a framework of needed and critical input. Thus, connecting our questioning to a broader strategy. Next, when our approach is to find ways to be of service and assist in the success of our colleagues, collaboration can take on a much more productive purpose.
Perfectionism Prevents the Synthesis of Past Experiences
Wherever we have gotten in our career, it is unlikely that we have gotten there without some failure, mishaps, or disappointing results. That being said, those incidents are not the defining characters of a full and long career. Some successes have no doubt demonstrated our talents and allowed us to progress.
That track record is paved with valuable data and approaches for us to fully take advantage of. Once we embrace that our past experiences are instructional, especially where failures have occurred, we can then share and lean into these experiences to create robust solutions. It is tempting to only focus on successes but discipline in analyzing failures can be an untapped resource.
Perfectionism Leaves Great Ideas on the Table
A tough pill to swallow is that perfectionism is not courageous. The fear of failure drives us to pursue safe, well-trodden approaches because they are likely to have the least negative fallout. However, the pursuit of a solution that will drive the greatest reward far eclipses the pursuit of a solution that's least likely to fail.
Confidence and courage and values easier stated than lived. That doesn't mean that we cannot embody them in our work. I often lean on the quote by F.D.R. that 'courage is not the absence of fear.' Fear is often indicative of the challenges that lead to great success. We decide to push past fear or be consumed by it, but knowing that we get to make that choice is empowering.
Many high achievers tend to have varying amounts of perfectionism laced throughout their approach to work. It makes sense as that focus and attention to detail is likely why they were successful in the first place.
However, perfection is more often than not a limiting force in pursuing a healthy, well-balanced relationship with work. We can still take an immense amount of pride in our work and embody strategies that are far more effective than trying to be perfect, especially since we know there is no such thing as perfection.