Perfection as the Enemy of Good

I have been writing and lecturing about perfection as the enemy of good for many years.  It was a very important topic of discussion when my work centered on mentoring young women lawyers, but the downfalls of perfectionism are not limited to women.  Men fall victim to perfectionism just as well.

I am a member or the DC Bar and have been for the last 45 years.  I have published in the bar magazine, Washington Lawyer, and I also enjoy the articles there.  One article captioned “The Enemy of Good” caught my attention in the most recent edition.  The author, Denise Perme, starts out this way:

Many [lawyers] suffer an insidious trait that masquerades as a virtue, causing us much pain and, only occasionally, pleasure.  It’s call perfectionism.”  And, as the article makes clear, it can easily become an obsession.  Perfectionism is toxic.

Perfectionism is to be avoided as the “dangerous traitor” it is, which stifles creativity , innovation and progress.  You may be familiar with some of these dangers either because you are a perfectionist or because you know someone who is.

If you see the signs of perfectionism in yourself, do not think it will go away easily.  It will not.  You have to be proactive.  Here is a helpful list of suggestions, which appear at the end of Ms. Perme’s article, for becoming less focused on perfection:

  • Challenge your thoughts and assumptions.  Catch yourself when you are [overreacting], examine the evidence, and do a reality check about the validity of your fears;
  • Replace negative self-talk with something positive [like], “You know you can do it; it does not have to be perfect.  There is a reason they trust you to write this”;
  • Do some “exposure therapy” by allowing yourself to have small failures. … Send an email that you know has a typo;
  • Find other sources of self worth outside of work [like] regular exercise, sports, or an art class;
  • Talk to people you trust and who can talk you down.  It is important to have a sounding board; and
  • Engage collaboratively with colleagues so you aren’t carrying the whole weight of the “perfect” on your shoulders.

Be aware.  Perfectionism is sneaky and gets out of control easily.  Don’t let it control you.

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