Dealing with Perfectionism

One of the things which you should never say during an interview when asked for your greatest weakness,
"I am a perfectionist".
While some people are content to leave the things when they are “good enough”, I am the type of guy who indents every line of code, even if it is just a program to test a certain standard library function.
However, in the past couple of years I have learned how to manage my perfectionism to the point that it doesn’t bother me anymore.
Through this article, I want to share some of what I’ve learned about dealing with perfectionism.
Although this seems like just a hitch to some people, it is a stumbling block for many, as it is pointed out by Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird:
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people."
That being said, perfectionism is not always bad. Many psychologists believe that perfectionism can be divided into two categories: Adaptive perfectionism and Maladaptive perfectionism.
Adaptive perfectionists tend to have their work in high standards. They focus a massive chunk of their energy in places that requires effort and attention to detail. And hence, they tend to pursue their goals without compromising their self-esteem.
On the other hand, Maladaptive perfectionists tend to develop constant pressure in order to meet unrealistic standards. This causes them to procrastinate on tasks, and undergo depression and anxiety due to their inability to meet their high ideals that they feel are expected to be met.
But of course, perfectionism is not always black and white. In fact it’s rather a shade of gray. It’s where one lies in that spectrum that matters.
Out of the many problems that perfectionists have, these are the main ones:
  • Unable to get started with tasks as they seem monumental.
  • Working and tweaking the same stuff for a long time, and hence taking too long to finish the task.
  • Repellent to making mistakes, therefore not allowing to develop skills.
  • Facing depression and anxiety because of the inability to meet perfection.
There is a way to overcome these problems. If we could find a way to make use of the positive qualities, and extenuate the negative ones, we can reign in perfectionism.
So how do we do that?

Realize that you are not perfect, and nobody is perfect

Often times we try to give the perfect speech, or make the perfect article(in my case), that we feel extremely bad when we forget a line from the script on stage, or forget to add a comma before an ‘and’ before publishing. If we embrace imperfection, and embrace mistakes, life will be a lot easier.

Just get started, let your work become a mess

How can you start your project when you don’t have all the knowledge and resources planned out, organized and ready for use? Is it even productive?
Seriously, stop worrying about the initial stage of your task. Just get started and improve it on the go with the help of feedback and constructive criticism.
Skill and knowledge are gained through countless iterations – not through creating a perfect first iteration.

Let your influences inspire you but don’t measure yourself against them

A beginner shouldn’t compare his work with a master. A newbie programmer shouldn’t compare his work with a world class competitive programmer.
Instead, compare your work against your previous work.
This is where I end my article, and yeah it’s imperfect. But I have realized, that I can always pursuit for perfection, but never attain it. For perfection is a process, not a destination.

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