Perfectionism is for Quitters.


“Hi, my name is Mike Jones and I’m a perfectionist.”

If there was a Perfectionists Anonymous I’d be a shoe-in. I certainly have all the symptoms of this insidious disease—mind-numbing self-awareness, endless iterating, constant second-guessing, agonizing frustrations with the slightest mis-steps, and of course the blasting critiques of everyone else’s work. Yup. I’m a perfectionist.

But I’m recovering. It has been a long, slow climb out of the depths of my P-ism but over the years I’ve become much less consumed with “getting it just right.” Some of it’s due to pure pragmatism—clients won’t wait forever for me to deliver the work. And some of it’s due to patient encouragement from friends—here’s looking at you, David. And some it is due to the perspectives that come with age—life is short and a lot of stuff isn’t that important in the grand scheme.

And as I’ve wrestled with perfectionism, I’ve become acutely aware of its consequences. Namely, quitting.

I know, at face-value this idea doesn’t quite add up. Perfectionism and quitting? Seems off. But hang with me for a second. I’ll try to unpack this a little.

Perfectionism. What is it, really? Well, at its root perfectionism is attempting the unachievable (i.e. striving for flawlessness). And if something is unachievable what is the ultimate end? Failure. So what final, last option is a perfectionist like me left with at the end of the day? Quitting.

We might reach and groan and strive and kick and scream our way towards perfection but the reality of perfectionism is you can never really attain to the standard that you set. Otherwise it wouldn’t be perfectionism.

So we quit. We give up. We either drop the project all together or ship it in disappointment over our failure. But either way we’ve quit—whether in reality or just in our heart.

And here’s the thing: I see this all the time with clients. They are constantly striving for perfection. They want everything just right before launching their business or unveiling their new product or putting out the ad campaign or pushing live their new website.

And what happens? It’s not perfect and yet it goes out anyways. But inside they feel like a quitter. They feel like the whole thing was a failure because it wasn’t perfect.

But the reality is shipping it was the success. Getting it out there is the first step in making it even better. And it’ll never be perfect. And that’s perfectly okay.

Do you think Michael Jordan would have become the best baller ever if he’d waited until his shot was perfect to play a game of basketball?

Do you think Bob Dylan would have become one of the most influential musicians of all time if he’d waited until he had the perfect voice before ever playing a gig? (Funny thing—he instead completely upturned the idea of a “perfect singing voice” and made his one of the most recognizable ever.)

Do you think Apple would be the foremost technology product company if they’d waited until they had invented the iPhone before selling anything?

So why not start a little smaller? Why not set the bar just a tad little lower than “flawless”? Why not test it first and give a few people a sample and see what they think? Then you can ship it and get excited that people are using it and giving you feedback. Then you can tweak it and make it even more delightful.

Then you won’t be a quitter, in reality or in your mind.


Image courtesy of San Jose Public Library.