WHAT A HIGH SCHOOL PROJECT TAUGHT ME ABOUT PERFECTION VS. GOOD ENOUGH

I remember when I was in High School, my 3D class teacher gave us the option of letting our final grade be based on one of two things:  We could either do the daily classwork assignments and let our final grade be calculated the normal way based on the average of our cumulative scores, or, we could do ONE BIG project and take whatever grade we got on that as our final grade.

Guess which route I took?  Of course, I took the one big assignment.  I was like “I don’t have to do classwork or homework every day?  Sign me up for that option!”  So as most of my other classmates toiled away in drudgery every day, I fooled around with the few others who signed up for the “easy” way out like I did.  Or so I thought it was easy.

Now, I knew what I wanted to do, and I had already worked out in my mind how I would do it.  I was going to make a 3D model of a house I had dreamed of in my mind since I was in elementary school.  It would be a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house with 2 stories (the 2nd story and roof would both lift off), a den, a laundry room AND get this, running water, windows that slid up and down and electricity to name a few!  The electricity part I had no clue how to do, but me worry?  Never!  And let’s not forget the furniture.  Yeah, I had BIG ambitions then and I still do now.  LOL!

Now, I didn’t actually goof off the whole time.  I did spend days after school designing and laying out my little house and cutting it out of matte board.  It actually started coming out quite well in my opinion.  But I kept getting stuck on the running water, up and down windows, paneling and electricity, to name a few. 

As the deadline crept closer, I started to get worried first, then the worry advanced to panic.  At one point I even thought of throwing in the towel and begging for the chance to make up the classwork for the semester, but fortunately I didn’t give up.  I procrastinated BIG time, avoiding the project for weeks at a time, trying to figure out how I could give up and still salvage the semester.  Fortunately, I hung in there and persisted, trying to get this thing to look the way I had envisioned.

Then one day, as I sat in my room staring at what I thought was a disaster with 3 days left until the end of the semester, almost burned out with the effort, I decided that I was killing myself trying to make this thing perfect.  It was like an epiphany that freed my mind!  

I went into overdrive mode.  I decided I would scrap the up and down windows (simple cellophane from my mom’s macaroni boxes glued over the opening would do).  Forget about the electric lights (that was insane to even consider with my complete lack of wiring knowledge).  The paneling became pieces of paper cut to size and glued on the walls, with vertical lines drawn on them and colored brown with a marker (It was the early 80’s, paneling was still cool).  No more running water (that wouldn’t work well with cardboard, duh!)  I drew the kitchen stove and sink on the countertop (why the heck did I even think I could make that work with all the time I had wasted up to that point?)

What I DID do was include every room I said I would, drew horizontal lines on the outside to represent siding, made a staircase (even though I left off the stair steps), made the second floor and roof lift away and drew lights on the interior and exterior where I thought there would’ve been real ones.  Ta-Da!  I was done, but nervous as heck.  Good enough would have to fill in for perfection.

I remember carrying this bulky model in a black Hefty garbage bag on the Q5 bus and E train and walking all the way from the Lexington and 53rd St stop to my then High School of Art & Design on 57th and 2nd Avenue.  Everyone was eagerly awaiting the incredible project I had shot my mouth off about doing and I was ready to be embarrassed and get a failing grade.  As the teacher walked up to me, he had a skeptical look on his face based on the huge amount of time I’d spent goofing off in class.  As I took my model home out of the garbage bag (thinking to myself this really IS garbage), I cringed and waited for the storm of ridicule that was sure to come.

And… it never came!  All my fellow students were gasping in surprise.  All I heard was “Wow!  You made this?”  “That looks great Forrest!”  But that was them.  The teacher still had not weighed in.  He sat at my desk and carefully examined the model.  All I could see were the things I wanted there but were absent.  What he saw, to my utter shock, was a beautifully done model home with incredible ingenuity.  He didn’t even care about the missing stair steps!  I asked nervously, “You like it?”  He turned to me with eyes wide and said “Like it?  I love it!  I wish I could give you more than an A for a grade!”

I was astounded and relieved all at once.  The rest of the day I basked in the praises of my fellow classmates and proudly brought my model home back on the train and bus to store it safely in my room.  I was so proud of that model in fact, that I still have it down to this day (though it’s a little beat up and dusty and missing some parts like the roof).  I guess good enough beat perfect that day.  And that’s the point of this admittedly long story.  All the while I was killing myself thinking I just had to have perfection, when good enough was plenty good enough! 

And here are 4 lessons that can be taken away from that story:

Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough.  When we get obsessed with being perfect, we get tunnel vision and close our minds to other creative options that will serve the purpose just as well.  Accept that everything you do is not going to come out perfect or as you had originally envisioned.  Instead, focus on how to accomplish the goal by other creative, less ambitious, means.  When you let your mind release its death-grip on perfection, you give it permission to be creative and come up with a variety of good enough options. As long as your work is not sloppy and meets the required standards of those you are serving, it is good enough.

The Unreachable Goal of Perfection Creates Procrastination.  Just like I did in this story, you will avoid a project at all costs if you can’t figure out a way to make it perfect.  Fortunately, I didn’t give up, instead I persisted.  So, don’t give up when perfection doesn’t materialize.  Accept good enough and you won’t be shy about persisting and putting the work in because you know you can accomplish the task in any case.

Expectations of Perfection Lead to Burnout.  Remember when I was sitting in my room staring at that model, overwhelmed and burnt-out about not being able to make it perfect the way I had planned?  That will happen to you when you strive for perfection.  Don’t burn out.  Instead pace yourself and set reasonable expectations that fit within the time and the resources you have to complete the project.

Expectations of Perfection Destroy Your Self-Esteem.  This is key.  I was terrified as I unveiled my model home.  I thought I was a complete and utter failure, a laughing stock.  And I was completely wrong!  As long as you put in an honest effort and do your best, you can never be a failure.  Your victory lies in the pride you can take in the hard work you put in and the fact that you didn’t give up.  That’s your true worth, not the false narrative that you, and your work, are not good enough.

So, when you have a seemingly daunting project to complete, don’t let perfection sabotage your success before you even start.  Be flexible, be easy on yourself, embrace good enough and take pride in what you can and will accomplish.  Keeping those things in mind will get you a win every time.

And if you feel stuck and think you could do with a little help, consider a coach.  A coach can help you put things in perspective and look at the situation from an objective point of view.  A coach can also help ou work out an action plan, hold you accountable and keep you on track.  I offer free discovery sessions to everyone who might want to explore whether or not hiring a coach is the right thing for them.  Just give us a call at 888-O4LS-NOW or email to info@Org4LifeSolutions.com to schedule your free session.  &qu