On Being “Good Enough”

As I sat down to write this post, I went through the ideas I’d generated for potential topics and felt that none of the topics were really great ideas or formulated well enough to generate an entry that I felt would be high quality or insightful or “good enough” to post. Not “good enough” in the sense that the post would be passable for some level of quality; rather, “good enough” to meet an imaginary bar that I have set for myself which I consider to be both the highest level of quality and my minimum expectation at the same time.

This is not a new issue for me. I am a perfectionist. I always want to do things perfectly, a desire which can often lead me into trouble. This is especially true when I try to write a paper for a class. I’ll often start some sort of deeply involved research into whatever I’m writing about, find out that there is much more that I want to learn about the topic than I have time for, lose all motivation to continue researching or writing, put off my work, and then eventually race to throw something together at the last minute. I realize that this process is less than helpful and greatly contributes to my stress level, but is nonetheless a habit that I’ve developed over a long period of time. Additionally, the entire process is completely self-defeating when my goal is perfection; the product I create is often “good enough” in a passable sense, but is rarely satisfying.

Also, as I hinted at above, this desire for perfection often leads me to either be too thorough in attempting to do something or unsure of how thorough I really need to be. This happened most recently earlier this week as I was putting together some information for a group I volunteer/intern for. The work was appreciated, but I still felt inadequate in my attempt to draw a bunch of information together, more raw data than I realistically had time to go through.

This feeling of inadequacy seeps into other areas of my life outside of work and school. I still remember feeling like I should have been able to do more in my extra curriculars in high school, or the frustration I feel every time I throw a Frisbee poorly while playing Ultimate. There are other times when I won’t talk if there’s a possibility that I’ll say something wrong.

I’ve found that my perfectionism has two different major outcomes; it can either serve as an incredible motivator that pushes me (healthily) to higher quality performance, or it can have the complete opposite effect. Unfortunately, this has yet to lead to some sort of “happy ending” where I’ve come to be in complete control of this trait which I can now use completely to my advantage. Recognizing that these two outcomes exist doesn’t mean that I’m getting any better at managing my perfectionism. Even though I know that humans can’t be perfect, I still often find myself trying to perform as perfectly as possible. I do believe that this can be used as good motivation in the right situations, but I’m still learning to recognize which definition of “good enough” is required by which situations.

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