The Enemy of the Good

A while back, I was asked, “I would love to do a guest post on other peoples blogs, but I get shy and nervous. I always feel that my writing isn’t good enough, or that my topic wont be interesting enough. I would love to read more about overcoming anxiety, and trusting in yourself!”

This is such a good question. There are several causes of this sort of anxiety (and a fair bit of the time, they gang up on us), so I’m going to break things down into a few posts, each focusing on a different cause. Today’s? Perfectionism.

The title above refers, of course, to the expression, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s become a bit of a mantra of mine ever since I was in Kaizen-Muse coach training and discovered that, to my considerable surprise, I am a raging perfectionist.

Now, I don’t mean that I run around making sure that the corners of my towels are perfectly aligned or that the cans in my cupboard all face the same way and are just so. Plenty of people are like that, but, well, there’s a reason why I once created a decluttering course, and it sure wasn’t because my house looked like it belonged in Architectural Digest. In fact, that’s why I always figured, “Well, at least I’m not a perfectionist!” WRONG.

The other perfectionism is much more insidious.

It creeps into your head and says, “Nope, sorry–not good enough. It’ll never be good enough. Why are you even bothering?” It hooks up with its pal Comparison and says, “Seriously? You’ll never be able to compete with So-and-So. Who do you think you are?” And in its strongest form, it keeps you from starting in the first place, because if you’ll never be good enough, or if the work will never be perfect enough, what the heck is the point?

In the words of David Foster Wallace, “You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in–It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.” And yet… “what it really is” could turn out to be better than what you imagined, or go in a different direction that leads you to something awesome. If you don’t try, you’ll never find out.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The great thing about realizing your perfectionistic tendencies is that you spot them when they rear their heads and try to get in your way. If you can repeat that mantra in those moments, you have a better shot of creating something you can be proud of.

Put your work out there. Put it out even if it’s not the ideal you have in your head. What you have to say, and the way you say it, are worthy all on their own, no matter what’s come before or what comes after. (Click to tweet this.)

5 thoughts on “The Enemy of the Good”

  1. I sometimes get hung up on perfectionism, but I always seem to be able to shake myself loose before I get stuck. I hope the same will be true when it comes to my upcoming book.

  2. Great post! It is like Guy Kawasaki says in his books “Just do it crappy.”

    Of course, he doesn’t mean crappy, he means get it out there and then proceeds to tell you of all the HUGE success stories of someone who just got something out there and then made it better as they go along.

    I am certainly glad that I have often taken that advice.

    In my long business career, I’ve seen far too many failures of people trying to make every single thing perfect while those of us who get it going skip all the way to the bank and back.

    Perfectionism can kill you when it need not do so.

    Again, great post.


  3. Thanks, Kathy!

    “Just do it crappy” is definitely the antidote to perfectionism, though a lot of people still have trouble with that idea. We say “do something small and crappy” in Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coaching, but we definitely do mean crappy. If you’re stuck in perfectionism, doing something deliberately crappy can break you right back out. 🙂

  4. “At least it’s done” has become my mantra some days. I want it to be perfect, but I don’t have time to tweak until it is. But at least it’s done. 🙂

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