The perfection pitfall

I don’t know about you, but as I grew up and worked on projects, I generally wanted to ensure the perfect outcome, whether that be a great essay or an amazing piece of handiwork. Striving for perfection drives us to learn and improve, which is obviously the point of being in school or further education, and for many, even the case when taking a hobby craft course. However, if you want to do an amazing job so badly, you may not be willing to accept a less-than-perfect outcome and you will be setting yourself up for disappointment even if you did a pretty good job. This may make you never try a hobby again or feel negatively about a school subject.

Not only will you be unfairly harsh on yourself, you may also end up feeling paralysed to even get started working on a project as you’ve set yourself what is an unrealistic goal in most cases. Additionally, it can be hard to see how to go from nothing to something that is perfect, which is why planning your work is so important.

What has helped me start and continue work on projects is to realise I might not be able to do a perfect job with the time available to me, or even within my own limits irrespective of how much time I would spend on it. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is an outcome you should accept and could even be happy with. For instance, French may not be your favourite subject because you are not very gifted at learning new languages, or you might be pressed for time. Getting a passing grade on a project or exam may not be so bad in this case, especially if you intend to not choose French for further education. A pass is for sure better than a fail, right?

I’d like to think of the outcome of an assignment along a scale from 1 to 10 (I grew up in the Netherlands where we get graded from 1 to 10 on school performance, allowing for one decimal). A 1.0 is the lowest grade you can obtain, 10.0 the highest. Grades of 5.5 and over are a pass, a 7.5 is pretty decent, and a 9.0 would be really excellent and not often given for things like essays and presentations, although on multiple-choice exams it is ‘easier’ to get close to the maximum grade.

Scale from 1 to 10 along which your performance might be measured, with 1 being the lowest and 10 the highest, and 5.5 and over being a passing grade.

If you think of it along a scale of Vince McMahon’s expressions, anything under a 4.0 is pretty much not really worth discussing. A grade between 4.0 to 5.5 is a fail but at least you tried. From 5.5 on you passed, and up to a 7.0 you did alright. From a 7.0 up to about an 8.5 you did better than ‘alright’. Especially from 8.0 on you did really well, with grades over 9.0 being given only to exceptionally good work.

So, when I think of what to aim for, I of course want to deliver perfection but I also realise that this generally is not possible. Then I remind myself that my first objective is to pass. In subjects that were difficult for me in school, I would be content with a passing grade. Of course I aimed for more than a passing grade in subjects that aligned better with my talents and interests and that I needed for further education.

Seeing a passing grade as a positive outcome and anything above that as the icing on the cake can help you feel better about your performance. You might also feel less anxious about getting started cramming for your exam or writing that essay!

By alexvanderwateren

I studied biomedical sciences and researched molecular origins of Parkinson's disease for my PhD. Since graduation, I have worked as a science writer, technical author, and medical writer. In my spare time I enjoy writing, illustration, crafts, reading, and travelling.