You’ve heard the saying, “The good is the enemy of the great.”
The person saying it is often some kind of creative director with interesting hair and cutting-edge glasses. And they’re saying it to remind us that just about anything you do, no matter how good it is, could be better. So, keep working on it!
There’s something inspiring about that, the drive to keep improving your work.
But there’s a dark side to it too. It’s best expressed with a slightly different saying: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
How many times have you seen projects fall apart – or even fail to get off the ground in the first place – because someone was holding out for perfection and wouldn’t accept a solid approach that would get the job done?
That’s perfectionism at work. We all carry at least a little bit of perfectionism inside us. Sometimes it can give us energy. More often, it blocks our ability to get things done.
Psychology Today defines perfectionism this way:
… a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. When healthy, it can be self-motivating and drive you to overcome adversity and achieve success. When unhealthy, it can be a fast and enduring track to unhappiness.
You’ve probably noticed that perfectionism is common in the fundraising profession. No doubt because so many of us understand what’s at stake. We need to get things right! And the drive to make things better is a very good thing.
Until it’s not.
Nobody ever achieves perfection, and the pursuit can yield not only failed projects but a negative orientation to your work and life that keeps you off balance and unhappy.
Here are some ways you can overcome the destructive power of perfectionism in your fundraising:
Apply the Pareto Principle
Pareto tells us that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. When you’ve put 20% of the time working on your task, you’re already 80% of the way there. That doesn’t mean it’s time to stop — you probably want more than 80%. But the more time you spend from that point, the more diminishing returns set in. As you get above 90% and beyond, you start to waste time and energy. And you will NEVER reach 100%. Nobody ever does.
Focus on progress over perfection
Since you’ll never reach perfection, give yourself a sense of what’s necessary for a project to be excellent. Or even “good enough.” This can be tremendously freeing when you keep your eyes on what you need to get done rather than some unrealistic “promised land” you might reach if only you spend enough time and money to get there.
Be aware of your perfectionist tendencies
You can’t really overcome a problem until you clearly see it. Look at your thought patterns that lead you toward perfectionism. Write down those thoughts, and work to understand them better.
Mistakes aren’t the end of the world
Mistakes are inevitable. They are also among the most effective ways to learn – in fact, learning from mistakes is necessary to make real progress. If you over-focus on avoiding mistakes, you not only block learning opportunities, but you also prevent your best work from happening in the first place.
Don’t put so much pressure on yourself
You are probably your own most severe critic; tougher and meaner than the worst boss you can imagine! Give yourself a break. Instead of setting yourself unrealistic goals of perfection, set goals you can meet. And don’t beat yourself up when things don’t go according to plan. Just turn it into a learning moment.
Don’t take criticism personally
Criticism is vital. You can’t learn without it. Making criticism a positive in your life requires two skills: First, learn to not take criticism personally. Sure, your work could be better… that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. Second, learn how to embrace helpful criticism and not worry about the unhelpful kind. You are going to get both!
Avoid social media depictions of perfection
Social media often creates a false picture of people achieving perfection because they work harder than you or are smarter. It’s not real. These people are painting an idealized picture – usually to make themselves feel better about their less-than-perfect lives. Teach yourself to laugh at the charade. Or stay away from social media.
Getting started is the hardest part of most projects. That’s why most people procrastinate. It’s a bad work habit. But perfectionists tend to procrastinate most of all. They’re afraid of starting something that might be less than perfect. It’s okay to start a project with a sloppy and incomplete “first draft.” In fact, any experienced writer will tell you that’s the only way to start.
Perfectionism can be a real problem. But if you harness it, it can be your superpower. Your drive to make things better will help you make your work better.
A great way to beat perfectionism is to connect with other like-minded professionals. Learn from their experience. Ask “embarrassing” questions. When you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic you’ll join our supporting community of cool fundraisers who support each other … and can help you go to new places in your fundraising career. You’ll also get the tools, training, and information, to do your best work every time. Join the waiting list now and you’ll be the first to hear when the doors to membership open!
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