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Unpacking Cultural Myths of the Modern Workplace: Done is Better Than Perfect (Part 3 of 3)


So far in “Unpacking Cultural Myths of the Modern Workplace,” we have explored the myth of “stress as a status symbol” and the myth imploring you to “break out of your comfort zone.” Both of these myths have been officially busted! If you caught the articles, you’ve hopefully started to explore new ways of thinking about stress and personal growth. If you missed the first two articles, no worries — this article can stand alone.

In this final article of the series, “Unpacking Cultural Myths of the Modern Workplace,” we’re going to explore a fairly new myth: “Done is better than perfect.”

Based on our research, it seems this expression originated with Facebook, where this cultural belief is written on the walls for all to see. It has become a mantra, and it’s spreading like wildfire.

For those of you who consider yourselves perfectionists and have long lived by mantras such as “practice makes perfect” and “strive for perfection,” this advice — “done is better than perfect”— can seem counterintuitive and nonsensical. You may even be tickled to hear that I am going to unpack this cultural myth!

Sorry to disappoint you! Unlike the first two myths, which we unpacked and debunked, I am inclined to promote “done is better than perfect” as fairly good advice.

When you look at successful leaders and peak-performing individuals, you will see that an attitude of “done is better than perfect” is, in fact, a key belief of a success-oriented mindset.

In an interview with The Washington Post’s Lillian Cunningham, Dr. Brené Brown explains, “You don’t see elite athletes letting themselves be discouraged by a bad workout or a single bad performance. It happens all the time. They’re accustomed to winning; they’re accustomed to losing. Once perfectionism becomes the goal, they’re out of the sport.”

Elite athletes aren’t that different from elite professionals, such as successful entrepreneurs, high-powered executives, or visionary leaders. Surely you have heard terms like “the entrepreneurial journey” or “the career path.” Whether you aspire to be an entrepreneur or a C-level executive, you are on a journey, and you need momentum to propel you forward! It’s all about getting in the game and learning on the fly.

Dr. Brown continues to say, “When I interviewed really successful leaders, what I expected to hear was a lot of perfectionism. But what I heard consistently was ‘I do not attribute my success to perfectionism. In fact, it’s the thing that I have to watch the most, because it will stop me from getting work done.’”

She goes on to explain, “Perfectionism is not motivated internally. Perfectionism is about what people will think. And you do not see effective leaders in corporations sitting on an email for three hours to make sure it’s worded just perfectly….”

Absolutely strive to be the best version of yourself and aim to improve, but as Inc. contributor Jason Selk suggests, “Instead of striving to be perfect, commit to getting something done.” Using perfection as the signal that you are ready to start will paralyze you. You can’t start at the final destination, and you can’t end at the starting gate.

You may be wondering why, if I am so on board with the mantra “done is better than perfect,” I have included it in a blog series about cultural myths in the modern workplace.

Great question!

As I mentioned before, I think this is fairly good advice. Even better advice would highlight the fact that perfection is an illusion and that perfectionism is often pathological.

David Hosier, MSc, says, “Pathological perfectionists are likely to discount, dismiss, or minimize their successes and fixate only on how they perceive themselves to have ‘fallen short.’ No amount of success satisfies them…they become trapped on an exhausting, debilitating treadmill, never reaching their ‘destination.’”

Entrepreneur’s Ann C. Logue explains that Jane Bluestein, author of “The Perfection Deception: Why Trying to Be Perfect is Sabotaging Your Relationships, Making You Sick, and Holding Your Happiness Hostage,” has identified that perfectionists often have the idea that mistakes equal failures, which leads them to a victimization mindset.

The Huffington Post’s Penina Ryback explains that perfectionism “…creates a false reality of how things actually are vs. how they should be, leading to skewed self-perception, stagnant innovation, and increased stress.”

In addition, the symptoms of perfectionism often mirror the symptoms of burnout:

  • insomnia
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • poor concentration

On the contrary, success requires confidence and resilience. Confidence, unlike low self-esteem, empowers you to take action, trusting that you will get the desired results or, at the very least, fail forward and learn from your mistakes! Resilience, unlike depression and anxiety, allows us to get back in the game when things don’t turn out perfectly.

So you can see that done is not better than perfect because perfection isn’t real! Instead, I offer a new mantra: “Done is to results as perfect is to self-sabotage.”

In business, it’s all about the results, so go get something done!

***If you identify with perfectionism and are ready to turn a corner, check out this FREE download, the Insight and Progress Tracker Worksheet, to help you track your progress and let go of your need for perfection.
Charlie Birch is an entrepreneurial coach, a trainer, and a consultant. Her areas of expertise include, but are not limited to, burnout prevention, resilience, optimal performance, leadership, team building, diversity, and inclusion.

Guest Author: Charlie Birch is an entrepreneurial coach, trainer, and consultant. Her areas of expertise include, but are not limited to, burnout prevention, resilience, optimal performance, leadership, team building, diversity, and inclusion.

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