If there is one word that I have seen thrown around more on the Embry-Riddle campus than airplanes, it’s the word ‘perfection’ and it’s variations. Being an aeronautical university, we pride ourselves on doing things just right. In our industry we cannot take chances because people’s lives are at stake every single day. We cannot “wing it” when it comes to aircraft design, stability, landings, aviation weather, controlling the airspace, etc. However, I also believe that this drive to get things absolutely right has lead us to misinterpret what perfection means.
Being perfect is not a complete state. It is, in fact, an extremely volatile phase of development or growth. It is about making consistent, rapid changes and adjustments so fast and subtle that, effectively, nobody notices them.
On the other hand, perfection is also a state of mind. It often gets confused with attaining vision, goal-accomplishment or just meeting self-expectation. When we start a project, we have a certain expectation of how the project must come to a conclusion. We come up with a game-plan, set outcomes, start working towards the end-goal and when we reach there we call ourselves – perfectionists. Actually, what you just did was meeting your own expectations. I am not saying that setting yourself a target, and then striving to reach it is any less of an accomplishment. However, it doesn’t make you a perfectionist. So, if you fall in this category, rejoice! You’re not a perfectionist.
Don’t feel so perfect anymore? Worry not. Perfectionism is not all that it is hyped up to be. I am actually proud that I am not a perfectionist. I may be detail-oriented, organized, self-motivated, focused but not a perfectionist. In a lot of studies, the drive for perfectionism has been linked as a leading cause for stress, procrastination and even depression. Perfectionists usually have an all-or-nothing attitude. They will abandon the entire task altogether if just one of the sub-tasks don’t meet their expectations or the “timing isn’t right”. This might be an acceptable approach for an organization – example, an airline canceling the entire flight because of a small, yet, potentially problematic issue – but not for people. Also, the obsession with perfection often leads to procrastination. Do a good enough job today, right now, and then refine it over the next couple days than worrying so much about the fine details that you delay it until the last minute. We learn from mistakes and setbacks. You’ll be far more successful at what you do, if you adopt a ‘win or learn’ instead of a ‘win or lose’ attitude. So, try not to be a perfectionist.