Thursday, January 7, 2016

Perfectly Unperfect

A new year begins, another challenge arises to fulfill my perpetual annual resolution. Here is how I achieved it (changing my mind on a strongly-held belief). 

I have always had perfectionist tendencies. For a while when I was younger, they were quite strong. I beat them back. But the tendency remained. And I reconciled that with the belief that it was a positive quality. That striving for perfection, in good measure, was an enhancement to achieving my goals. 

The better I've come to understand failure, the more I have doubted perfectionism. I now no longer belief it is a positive quality. My aha moment came last year while reading Megan McArdle's book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success. (Imperfection confession: I haven't finished the book yet. My reading discipline is far from perfect.)

The better you are at something the naturally higher-quality your work will be. Trying to make it perfect is a waste of time. Striving to be perfect is a fool's errand. Generally if editing requires more resources than the original creation, then the endeavor was a failure to begin with.

Effective is underrated. "Easy to Fix" is generally far better in all respects than "Hard to Break". 

Don't get me wrong; working hard is a virtue. Striving for improvement even after much has already been achieved is a desirable quality--when well balanced against the cost. Perfectionism is a different animal. In fact it is an alien to both this world and this universe. It is simply the drive to get more than can be expected. It is alchemy masquerading as practice. 

PS. As a corollary I have also always had completionist tendencies. However, in that case I've known for quite a while that it is a negative quality, but I've struggled to have the resolve to fight it. Tyler Cowen is a role model to follow in this regard (check out the transcript (or listen) at 19:01). It was listening to Penn Jillette's podcast Penn's Sunday School last year that got me thinking a lot about completionism. Penn is a classic example as he will readily admit. He says visiting a museum with him is torture because he insists on reading each and every display fully.