Blogversation 2012: Perfection vs Perfunctory – Which Is Better?

Throughout this year, several bloggers will engage in a conversation here and on their blogs — asking questions of each other and responding. Others are absolutely welcome to join the conversation, as well. Learn more about the ladies of Blogversation 2012.

Today’s question comes from Lauren McCabe, mermaidchronicles.com, @mermaidtales on Twitter:

Perfection vs Perfunctory – Which Is Better?

Today's question comes from Lauren McCabe, Mermaid Chronicles

This is what I compare my perfectionist tendencies to: a pond on a  beautiful day. The clouds shine, the water shimmers, and  as I wade around and around in this beautiful, stagnant hole I go absolutely nowhere.

This is what I compare my perfunctory tendencies to: a wild, racing river. The water rushes down crags, water falls, and valleys. It pours and roars, moving fast, onward through the next  wild piece of land, going everywhere.

Perfectionism is about staying back,  revisiting and revising.

Perfunctory is pushing forward, doing what needs to get done simply, mechanically so you can go and go and go.

Perfection is at the top of the charts, being perfunctory is somewhere in the middle.

This is my question: How do you balance perfection with getting things done? Is it better to be perfect or perfunctory? What do you think?

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Categories: career, creativity, lifestyle

Tags: , , ,

6 replies

  1. I would love to think I’m somewhere in the middle. I’ve long chased perfection and in recent years, I’ve been working on all fronts to let that sort of rigid thinking go; in its place, I’m going for thoughtful balance. However, deadlines rear their less-than-pretty heads on a weekly basis so I’m constantly struggling to rise above perfunctory. There is beauty in showing your flaws but editors don’t always agree. I think the thing that I do is assess what projects are “passion projects” and which I’m doing, frankly, for the paycheck. Some of the work I do doesn’t always merit my idea of excellence. I have to put things in perspective and sort of rate the level of laser focus and thoughtfulness I bring to various projects.

    Working on my memoir has been a serious challenge in this struggle. As a former editor, I have a hard time turning that off when I’m writing and I find that it stops me up from tapping into more emotionality. So I have to make a serious effort to let the perfectionist go so I can write more truthful, meaningful copy. I tell myself that it’s just notes, or a draft, or journalling and that helps me write more freely. I can always go back and polish it later. 😉

    • I think balance is the answer in most things — but I especially love your approach of segmenting projects where striving for perfection might be worth it from those where good enough is good enough.

      John has a line he likes to quote, I think it’s Picasso: No painting is ever finished, only abandoned.

      I take that to mean that for creatives, whether you have one hour or a whole lifetime, there’s always something you could find to improve, and at some point you have to decide you’re ready to call it done. You’re making that decision in part on how it feels in your heart, and that makes sense to me.

  2. There is no such thing as perfection. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we get on with the business of living. Striving for perfection is a way to not get stuff done; being scared to make a mistake traps us in limbo. Once we free ourselves of the notion that perfection exists, we can do and create the most amazing things. While there is no such thing as perfection, there is always editing, and the world could use a lot more of that these days!

    • I agree, Maria! I try to live by the saying, “Progress not perfection.” Perhaps there should be a second sentence about editing along the way. I feel that too often when I strive for “perfection” I spin my wheels and waste energy on making the same “not perfect” decision over and over and over. It’s demoralizing and doesn’t help me reach my goals. Luckily, my boss is the one who taught me the saying and lives by it himself.

  3. Hey, Lauren. Great question! I used to have debilitating procrastination patterns, fearful that whatever I did would not work out to be perfect. It showed up the most in school, all the way through college. I learned somewhere along the way that trying to be perfect, whatever “perfect” is ( it’s pretty subjective, right?), is part of an effort to avoid being criticized.

    The phrase that saved me was “Go for completion, not perfection.” When I heard it, I remember something shifting in my brain and exhaling in a big sigh of relief. This piece of advice helped me get through graduate school with way less stress than in past years as a student. Just get it done, and move on. Oh, man, what a Godsend to someone who originally turned in nearly every paper late if at all. I did fine in grad school, and I actually enjoyed learning!

    Also: There are definitely certain tasks and projects that deserve doing with flourish, panache, and attention to detail. Recently, I wanted a bouquet of flowers for my apartment. I could have purchased the bouquets sold in walking distance from my house. But I refused to spend $8 on tulips that looked like they had been mowed over by a John Deere tractor. I held out. A few days later, on my way home from Manhattan, I stopped in a store I liked and found locally (well, sort of – from New Jersey) grown bright fresh yellow longer-stemmed tulips for $6 and I knew they were the ones for me!

    Seems like kind of a small thing but it’s an example of where it makes sense to not just get something done for the sake of getting it done, but to hold out to nail down the details that make a difference.

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