I just completed a partial taping segment for a CD I'm creating that debunks myths about the media and publicity.
I had set aside some time with my buddy and industry consultant Frank Hurtte of Riverside Consulting, who served as the interviewer. I planned on transferring the taped session to a CD for (free) distribution afterward. Simple.
But instead of having a smooth, comfortable 35- to 45-minute session, we never got beyond my debunking the first myth. My “performance” was a bit ragged. Also, we encountered some technical issues, including an annoying hum throughout the recording.
Results? I wasted one hour of my time (and Frank's).
It got me to thinking of perfectionism. I think about this issue frequently, and it came to mind again in a blog by Internet guru Ken McCarthy. (True confessions: I enjoy the way Ken writes and he sits on the editorial board of one of my Penton publications.) Reduced to its simplest terms, Ken raises the question of when we need perfectionism and how, despite its grandiose connotation, it can actually become a lethal impediment to success. (You can read his blog at http://kenmccarthy.com/blog/?p=96.)
Our parents, teachers, bosses and most motivational speakers admonish us to always give forth our best effort, the mantra of every perfectionist. How many times have we heard someone whip out Winston Churchill's famous cry about never surrendering?
The logic on the surface almost seems unassailable. If you don't quit, you eventually reach your goal. The twin characteristics, persistence and perfectionism, build character, confidence and commitment: What more do you need to succeed in life?
These views have merit, but in the adult world, very little is black and white. Sometimes, no matter the zeal or effort, you are either physically, mentally or emotionally incapable of succeeding at certain tasks. You can wish all you want and train as hard as you wish, but if you're 50 years old, you will not win a race against the world champion at the 100-meter dash.
Beyond the issue of actually being a perfectionist, there arises the more important question: Is it worth it? I have seldom seen anyone in life really succeed at something without sacrificing something else in return. The more stubborn, committed and focused you are, the more it will consume you. And that isn't necessarily a bad philosophy.
Even in the workplace, perfection can be a downright handicap. I remember Dan Kennedy writing about a former employee. This employee would spend an inordinate amount of time preparing packages for mailing. According to Dan, his employee wrapped the packages with great care, aligned the labels perfectly… it was almost high art. Dan explained that he spent far less time preparing packages for mailing. Adequate was enough. Dan estimated he “lost” one piece of mail in the previous five years. It made Dan wonder why a person making such a huge salary would spend so much time on the simple task of mailing a package when it just wasn't that important.
And that, of course, is the real question: How much effort should we put into whatever we do? We generally don't praise a proportional effort, and yes, most of us in the business world are always crying about why we can't find balance in our lives.
Strange isn't it. We are effusive about those who are perfectionists when they succeed. But how do we label perfectionists that don't? We declare them losers because “they get bogged down on the detail; they can't see the big picture; they're afraid to try something new; they can't let go.”
I suspect that the wisest “perfectionists” are those who, according to Kenny Rogers, “know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em.”
You simply cannot take every task or obligation and turn it into a life-or-death situation. At the same time, unless you are a virtuoso who can do things without effort, you must stick, push and prod yourself to achieve something.
I didn't want to prepare for the perfect taping session with Frank because (as Ken McCarthy correctly points out) it can lead to procrastination. I just wanted to get it DONE. But this time, I was a little too imperfect. Before the next session, I'm going to ensure that the taping system works as it's supposed to. And I'm going to have a bulleted outline in front of me to make the explanations smoother.
And, like this column, it might not be perfect, but I think it will be good enough.
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