Not So Perfect: Learning to Let Go of an Elusive Goal

June 2018

Progress loading concept with copyspace for website, user interfaces, installation software, preloading webpage, work in progress. A loading bar isolated on blackboard indicate a percentage.Ever since a friend brought it to my attention, I’ve noticed I misuse the word perfect frequently, at least in speech. I say it when I find a mutual time to talk with someone. When I sign off on instructions. When I’m offered fresh fruit in lieu of bacon for brunch.

The one place I rarely use it: my own work product.

Perfect should not be the goal

“Perfect” may be my current catch phrase, but it isn’t a catchall term for my body of work. I learned years ago that perfection simply doesn’t exist, and those who seek it can do more harm than good. Toil too long on a project and you can diminish results. You also can strain work relationships, even among those who appreciate your fastidiousness.

That doesn’t mean people like me don’t give their work proper scrutiny. But the handshake signaling completion between writers, editors, designers and collaborators now happens more quickly due to competition (including for our attention) and the compression of content production time. This leaves more room for regrettable errors, not just sloppy copy.

A January Harvard Business Review article by researchers Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill shows some of the pitfalls of perfectionism, including procrastinating and refusing difficult tasks. “Perfectionism is a misleading trait,” they claim. “It promises meticulousness, hard work and dedication but, although it can deliver motivation and performance, [it] also delivers mental health difficulties.”

Good enough may be as good as it gets

In content marketing, a constant challenge is meeting expectations of different stakeholders who don’t all view your content the same way. That’s one reason projects typically start with kick-off calls and a written summary that clearly outlines primary goals for content or campaigns. It helps ensure everyone reviews a deliverable with the same objectives in mind.

Go for buy-in, not boisterous praise. It’s important to know that consensus is the goal, not widespread acclaim. And if you clearly articulate goals and any limits (such as word lengths or branding guidelines) during a draft’s delivery, you are more likely to gain timely buy-in from everyone. That can be a huge feat in itself.

Follow a style guide. Word choices, like imagery and graphic design, are highly subjective. Having a style guide for writers to abide by helps avoid stepping on language land mines. Make sure that guide is reviewed and updated every 6 to 12 months—and be sure to advertise new versions to everyone at an organization. Keep electronic copies where they can be easily retrieved, too.

Take it personally…to a point. Yes, you must manage multiple opinions and sometimes decide whose will rule. You may not agree with your critics, but if someone points out a flaw or some fault, own it. Deconstruct it. Then learn from it.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sometimes fails on the first try (or second or third). What can distinguish the “good enoughs” from the perfectionists is a quicker willingness to take risks or admit defeats. Then we move on, allowing those memories to help improve, rather than impede, future work.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne Saita