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Perfection is not an option

My friend Andy, a successful organizational development consultant, moved to Ohio last year to pursue an MFA in playwriting. I spoke to Andy yesterday for the first time in about a month. We talked about his first year play, and he told me about how he’s felt blocked for a few weeks. After an initial reading with actors, he received consistent feedback in one area: he had to decide if he was writing a farce with some serious undertones, or a serious piece with some moments of light. Andy told me that this weekend he finally gave up trying to have it both ways, made a decision, found himself unblocked creatively, and spent the entire weekend writing.

“I realized that I don’t have time to fix everything I want to fix this time around. I need to fix the big things, get it in front of actors, and let the little things take care of themselves. I can’t afford to wait around for it to be perfect.” Perfection is not an option.

How many projects do I have in some sort of blocked state right now because I need to find the time to do them right? How many ideas are only half-executed because I haven’t figured out how to finish them the “right” way? I have friends who agreed to read some of my writing in December, whom I haven’t followed up with because I haven’t “finished” revising. And I never will, at least not as long as I hang onto a belief in perfection.

This should sound familiar to anyone who’s worked on a software project using one of the agile methodologies. You don’t try to perfect — finish — the software, and then show it to the users. You take care of the big stuff, and get in front of users. And then the big stuff changes, and you can take care of it again. Rinse and repeat.

Perfection is not an option.

Perfection is, of course, quite alluring. I know that I want to be recognized for my work, want to be seen as someone who has intellectual authority and gets things done. At the same time, I’m afraid that I’ll be seen as less than that: as a failure, a poser, someone who just doesn’t get it. So I hold onto this belief that if I do it perfectly, I can somehow control how people see my work. This is a lie. I can not control how people see my work, and can not control their reactions. If someone reacts negatively, it’s possible they’re reacting to the quality of my work (I am not for one moment arguing I shouldn’t care about doing my best), but it could also be something else entirely. The way I present myself. Their own concerns and fears about their work. Things I can not control. So I remind myself of the truth.

Perfection is not an option.

Just like I’ve tried to stop worrying about having the perfect tools , I want to let go of believing the output has to be perfect before I share it with others. [Reading this blog, you can be forgiven believing that I let go of that belief long ago; I do better here, but there are still drafts from 2006 that I’ve never published because they weren’t “right”.] By definition what I put out, no matter how much time I put into it, is not going to be perfect. If I can accept that, embrace it, I can spend my time and energy actually doing the work, instead of worrying about the output.

Perfection is not an option.