My Fight Against Perfectionism

 

Blog post by ELP Student Junchen (Mark) Jin (Computer Science | Class of 2019)

Before I started my internship journey, I loved the label ‘perfectionism’ more than everyone else. I couldn’t help repeating this word thousands of times in my resume and self-introduction. Now I’m writing this blog and striking to tear down the label of ‘perfectionism’ on myself.

How could this happen? You might be shocked at such upside down. I was also shocked one month ago when I heard how my colleagues described one of my respectful leaders, “He is almost perfect except that he is a perfectionist.” “What? Pardon me? He is ‘perfect’ in my mind because he is a perfectionist.” I almost burst into anger.

 

‘Because perfectionism is the enemy of efficiency.’

I spent three hours editing a meeting minutes for my mentor. I expected he would praise me with a big smile, but that big smile might only appear in my dream. He criticized me for half an hour. “How dare you spend your precious three hours working on such a small meeting minutes?” I was confused. “I thought you would be content at my ‘hard’ work’.”

“Do you know why I am so angry about your behavior? Because I could almost see myself in the past from you. At that time, I was lost in all these details and indulged in self-delusion. I thought I could sacrifice my sleep to pursue perfection on everything I’m working on. But later I found this is really naïve. Perfectionism masked the big picture from me.”

Even worse, sometimes perfectionism might lead to procrastination. Sometimes I even persuade myself to delay my work with the excuse that I’m not fully prepared. Hence, a lot of work is piled up till the last minute.

 

‘Because perfectionism is the enemy of happiness’.

Sometimes I feel exhausted working at a startup. I never know what will happen at the next moment, and hence I’m always over tension preparing to always be the best on the next thing. But I don’t know what the next thing will be, so I’m always anxious about tomorrow. Guess what, when the next thing finally comes, I think you’ve already known the result, I start to get anxious about the next next, without enjoying the happiness of completing the former next.

The result-driven way of thinking makes me miss the sightseeing during the trip. I failed to enjoy the process since only the result is in my eyes. “All or nothing”. This might be the slogan I had for the past few years. I fail to realize that there still exists an intermediate region between end and end. I mistakenly think that there could only be a straight line between two points and forget that there could also be the beautiful curve or even I can jump between them. I mistakenly judge myself with either ‘perfect’ or ‘loser’, without any neutral description in between.

That might explain why I cannot experience much happiness as my peer in my past years. My life goals are set to be only imaginable but not attainable. How could I gain happiness with such settings? Without such happiness, how could I make sustainable progress in such a long river of life?

 

‘Because perfectionism is the enemy of perfect’.

Working at a startup illustrates what is the so-called art of compromise. It might sound sad for a lot of perfectionists, but it’s the truth that a lot of perfect products are made up of thousands of iterations of imperfections. Just as a startup needs to make the minimum effort to achieve its next milestone, a good product needs to spend the shortest time to grow from a baby to a superstar.

It’s more important how our target customers think about our product rather than how we think about our products. And that’s the reason why we can see a lot of young and naïve prototypes or demo in the market. “I know you will never let your potential customers see these young and naive prototypes” said one of my mentors, “And that actually shows how young and naïve you are.”

It’s true that sometimes I cannot figure out what’s the difference between being stubborn and being perfect. What’s the value? This becomes the most frequent question I ask myself when again I begin to be too particular about something.

Conclusion

If I cannot make it 100, I cannot afford making it 80 or 70, and hence I will initiatively make it down to zero. This is how Professor Tal describe perfectionists about during the public class at Harvard. Perfectionism is really a good characteristic compared to others. But a lot of us fail to make good use of this good characteristic. Yes, a lot of masterpieces are made by perfectionists. Hence, how to keep a harmonious relationship with such characteristic and take full advantage of it to make some value becomes my next year’s priority.