Getting Over Imperfections 101: In the Workplace and Beyond
Things don't need to be perfect, because nothing ever is.
For those who don't know me, I used to be (and still am to some extent) an overly critical person, to myself and to everyone and everything around me.
I remember when I was in primary school, there was a good couple of years when I could only use one type of pencils, writing at a particular angle, for all my homework. I would sharpen my pencils the same way, every day when it's homework time. If I didn't, I would get cranky, annoyed, and frustrated. I don't think anyone ever noticed, and it's a secret I've kept to myself for many years. I guess I felt embarrassed or silly. So why did I do it? I have no idea. But to me, it was the perfect way to write homework so it was the way I had to do it.
Bad habits die hard.
Of course, I grew out of that habit eventually. But from time to time, even after I moved on to adulthood, I still find myself getting obsessed over little things unnecessarily.
When I started my current job almost four years ago, I was told that all client emails have to be perfect. I was told to watch my formatting, my tone, my typos, my spelling mistakes...everything just had to be...well, perfect.
As someone who was just starting out in her career with limited working experience, I thought it's the way business needs to be. So I spent hours and hours reading and re-reading everything I wrote, and oh man, it was time-consuming! I would ask my colleagues, "Do I sound too aggressive here? Should I lighten up the tone?" Over-analysing never felt more exhausting.
However, despite all efforts, shit still happens sometimes. One day I sent an email to a client and I spelled his colleague's name wrong — like, really wrong. Having copied in the entire team, my manager came around and flagged the mistake.
The email was just some minutes after a call, so I began to hope that my client wouldn't even read it, let alone spot an error. But as the feeling of guilt grew deeper and deeper, I started to consider recalling the email, however logically speaking it'd just make the whole thing more obvious! Anyway, this emotional roller coaster went on for about an hour — during this time I couldn't concentrate and I spent all my time imagining the worst possible outcome. I thought, even though the idea was so irrational: "He's so going to fire me!"
Then - 'Ding' - an email notification. My client replied! I stared at the subject line - yep, it's in response to the email I just sent. In my mind I was pacing up and down in an empty room, deciding frantically whether to open it. My manager came over and said: "Just get it over with!"
I double clicked the email, and there it was - my client pointed out the error, as expected. But what I wasn't expecting, was that he appreciated that it was an honest mistake, corrected me, said 'Thanks', ending the message with a smiley face. That was it. No speech about quality control, no telling me off, no nothing.
"Done is better than perfect."
I know this story is so trivial, but it's just one of many examples desperately telling us we're only wasting our time if we wait for everything to be perfect.
I'm by no means saying we should abandon quality altogether. Some things do need to be as error-free as possible, like a piece of advert you're airing in front of millions of people - these are the things you should be spending extra time thinking it through. But things like emails, minutes, briefs... the purpose of these documents are to communicate information, so as long as the information is communicated, the job is done! There really is no need to obsess over your sentence structures and punctuation.
As Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, said in her book, Lean In - Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, "Done is better than perfect." She definitely didn't get to where she is today without sticking to this motto.
It applies to everything else in life.
And this motto goes beyond the workplace.
Next time when you're obsessing over whether your books are straight and dust-free enough on your bookshelf, why don't you pick one up and start reading? Or when you're colouring Johanna Basford's Magical Jungle, focus on the relaxation it's meant to be providing and stop worrying about if you're colouring inside the lines.
Once you realise things don't need to be perfect because nothing ever is, you'll begin to let go of the unrealistic expectations you unnecessarily set yourself, and really start living.
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