You might hear from time to time that, at a job interview, whenever you are asked what are your weak points, you should say something which might look negative, but is considered positive by some employers – “I’m a perfectionist! I strive too much to make everything perfect! I do have this problem!”. Surely, people saying this at job interviews know that that’s not real, in a lot of cases, and they only tell it to impress.
I’ll have a look below at why my thinking on the matter is that the issue really is a problem, not only for the person saying it, but also for the employer. I’ll use personal examples.
Introduction to the matter? I am switching towns these days, moving from Bucharest to Năvodari (I lived here for two years; and, before that, for 14 years; and, before that, I was born here, in Bucharest, but didn’t live here), and there are all sorts of things I need to take care of. Some of these involve things I don’t control, and some of these involve other people.
For example, I had to make sure that some papers are delivered to a person in time, but the first two other things needed to happen. When I move, there’s a certain procedure, and certain elements need to take place (canceling my Internet subscription, meeting with the owner of the apartment, things like these).
For some things, I gave a promise – I promise, I’ll leave on date X, that I’ll deliver the papers on date Y, I’ll meet with person Z.
What I noticed is that when things depended on me, I tried my best to solve them as well as possible, and this gave me peace of mind.
On another hand, when things didn’t depend on me, at times I was stressed about what might happen, even if my stress didn’t help with the issue at all.
What’s the theoretical issue? I saw at one point a person on LinkedIn claiming he is an uber connector, in the idea of connecting ideas, people, and projects. I talked at some point with a friend, and told him that I think of myself as a creative person, he told me he considered an older person was creative, while I was not. About this – I think I’m creative, I have some ideas, but what I do at a better-than-average level is taking action on things. If I think I have a tip for someone, if I think I can connect idea A with B, I try to do this. I read some news sources, know some people, go to some events, am a part of some groups and communities, and all of these, put together, help me be a connector. I still think I have more-than-average ideas, so I consider myself creative. My friend was, in my opinion, correct that, with time, older persons can have more resources to connect, so they look more creative. But if the same persons don’t act on their ideas, don’t tell X to do so-and-so, they’re not uber connecter. I think that these two, combined help me be a better uber connecter than most. So, if, let’s say, I’m 50% more creative than the average, and 50% more connected than the average, I’m 1.5 x 1.5 = 2.25, which means I’m more than twice a connector (an uber connector, if you please) than most people (via). Sure, these are made up figures, but the idea, I think is valid. If you’re both a person with a creative mindset and a person with lots of things you can connect, good things come. So, even if my friend didn’t consider me as creative as the other person, I think he mostly referred to what he knew about me from my direct relationship with him – surely, that older person had much more options to prove creativity than me, and I don’t deny that the person might be more creative. What I do think, though, it’s that I’m just enough creative, more than the average, and combined with the ability to act upon an idea I get, this can make me a good connector. So, if a person has a lot of ideas, but doesn’t apply most of them, that person might have issues being a connector. So, the theoretical issue is that I think on a lot of things, and try to apply them.
What’s the practical problem?
- Looking for perfection makes me overthink things. “What would happen in scenario X?”. To some degree, this might bring positive things, but, all-in-all, it’s not a solution I can recommend to everyone. If you’re a perfectionist, and an uber connector, these two go together. You might know person X has a need, and if you find a resource for that person, you can easily provide. If you have a review to make of entity Y, make it. And so on. That helps.
- On another hand, it doesn’t help being stressed. A company might look at this and say – “Look, person X, a perfectionist, is doing well for the company, it’s a positive trait”. I don’t think that being stressed helps much, I think it’s the opposite of being a resource mindset, it’s a negative trait.
- On the practical side of things, being a perfectionist can be destructive in a project. On one hand, you might wait too much before launching something, and on another hand always having a critical eye can prevent you from starting things. It’s not easy working with someone who always finds the problems for every solution. Critical thinking? That’s fine. Permanent critical thinking? That can be nagging.
- Another aspect is the complete feeling of dissatisfaction with pretty much everything. Best efforts are not enough, I have to win in everything. Even if I win, I want to win more. If I acknowledge this issue, I can work on it, but this permanent quest for “How can I do better in situation X?” is not desirable for me.
- The most important one is to face the issue. Expose yourself to problems. I tried my best to climb every mountain – to attend a lot of events, meet people, do projects, do stuff. But I still have this issue, even if I try doing things.
- I think another solution might be to actually embrace the issue and become better organized. Some of the ideas I find worthwhile get written down (I try to write them all, but my taste in what’s appropriate to become a blog post changes). If I find a task, I put it in Calendar. Yet, at times, I find I could better organize. For those situations, it’s best to become better organized.
- Another one is to create a mindset of not caring. I’m not too comfortable with going on this path. Yes, there are benefits with this, too, sure. Every action has a positive and less-than-positive aspect, everything one can do has some good and some evil in it. You need paradoxes. But I think, overall, it’s better to care than not. See the image accompanying this article.
Does perfectionism have a positive thing in it? Sure it does! As I told you, everything you do has positive consequences, and some which are less-than-positive. Let’s explore some of the aspects:
- I think the greatest aspect is the results-brining motivation to do things. If you email a lot of people, and get feedback, if you go to lots of conferences, and get feedback, if you do all sorts of side projects, and you get feedback, from all of these you get energy to do more things. It’s very motivating, it gives you fulfillment (I talk from experience, in this). It even doesn’t matter what sorts of things you do. If you find pleasure in writing comments on blogs, do this. Anyone can do that. If you find pleasure doing small jobs on Fiverr.com, that’s fine. If you want very high professional jobs, do this, you’ll find a lot of pleasure solving complicated things. Money help in this, too. The thing is – if you want to help, there’s plenty of market for you. A quote by Martin Luther King Jr. – “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
- It makes you look good on job interviews if you frame the answer correctly. Ok, that’s a silly reason, I admit.
- It helps with creating a results-brining critical attitude. I’ve done quite a few audits (on SEO / UX), and looking for perfection is really helpful when you get a project in telling an entity (company, person) what the trouble is with their web site, and how can they improve, in high details.
- It helps in not caring for the non-essentials and focusing on important things.
- Let’s take, for example, blogging. I wrote, to this date, around 2.500 public articles on this blog, you can add a few hundred others on other various places. At first, I cared a lot about the small things. Now, I do some basic grammar checking, and that’s it. Most of the time, I don’t re-read the things I write. If I need to, if I need to extract a piece of information, sure, I’ll look at it again, but, generally, I don’t re-read stuff. I write for a lot of reasons. Writing because people might learn spelling by reading my blog is not one of them. I value other things more than rereading what I write. Generally, I don’t make huge mistakes, but around 5% of what I write could be improved if I would reread my texts one or two times. Most of the times, that 5% comes from adding some explanations to the ideas I write and the points which I make. But the other things I write for (the pleasure of blogging/journaling, the pleasure of getting feedback from what I write, the utility of giving people a link to a lot of stuff – so, instead of writing a long email, I just give a link -, the utility I get from the blog – like advertised posts, the fact that I get to know what’s it like to use WordPress, so I can provide better services to my clients, they all help).
- Coming back to the main idea of this point – by caring a lot on the important aspects of blogging helps me ignore a lot of non-essentials. There’s a story about a person who goes to the rabbi to help solve the issue of not having enough space in the house. After the rabbi tells the person to add even more things to the house, and after a while to take them out, the contrast makes the person understand that he used to have plenty of space. That’s the same thing with worrying a lot. I might worry, work on the small details, and, in the end, I will tend to solve the most important things.
- Another example for this point is chess – I play chess for important reasons, like developing attention, socializing, structured thinking, focus on long-term. Yes, I want to win, but that’s a less-than-important reason. It’s not the main reason for playing chess. Sure, if I were aiming for professional-level, and I would get some actual benefits from winning a game, sure, it would matter. Other than that, I don’t mind losing sometimes. Or about watching movies – sometimes, I prefer to see a movie again, in order to get some ideas and pleasure after I haven’t seen a movie in a long time. I don’t wish to watch movies just to say “I’ve seen all the movies in the so-and-so category”. I prefer seeing again a great movie, rather than watching for the first time a totally new movie. Of course, this is the exception, not the rule, but just watching new movies is not a good strategy to me. Also, I can watch an old movie, even if I don’t like the special effects and some of the things related to sound, cinematography, costumes, things like that. Sure, I enjoy a new movie, with 2020-level special effects, but an old movie is fine, too.
- Things tend to work out well. If I care a lot about the details, things tend to solve themselves. It may bring me stress, but the finished product might get me pleasure. What’s the purpose, if a client gives you a task which takes a while, to re-read the email a few times, to go back-and-forth between the email, Google, doing stuff? That’s where ideas came from! If a person gives you a rather complex issue in an email (a single task, but with multiple alternative possible solutions), rereading the email, checking things again and again will bring you ideas. Let’s say you need to check why a web site doesn’t work. You can start by re-installing an older version of WordPress. But until that happens in FileZilla, you can go through the admin, check for other options, until you find a solution. The solution, most likely, will not come by following a rigid procedure. Or, if it will, it will take longer than coming back, worrying, trying to find the needle in the haystack. If you think about things which might go wrong, you will be more prepared.
- I tend to work on things which focus on the long term – I tend to care for things like I would be an old man, looking at the life. “If I were 75, 5 years ahead of me, what would I do differently right now, when I’m 38?”. This kind of thinking helps me. Things for the old man – health, overall happiness, relationships, safety -, matter more for me than for the average persons I know of my age.
Moishe has a problem, so like any good chassid, he goes to visit his Rebbe.
Moishe: Rebbe, my apartment is very crowded. Besides me and my wife, there are also my children and my mother-in-law. I don’t have enough room! What should I do?
Rebbe: Bring a goat into the house and let him live with you.
Moishe: But Rebbe, there’s no room for a goat.
Rebbe: Bring a goat in the house, I tell you!
In a month’s time, Moishe returns to the Rebbe.
Moishe: Rebbe, things are much worse now. With the goat in the apartment there is no place to move.
Rebbe: So get rid of the goat!
The next day, Moishe returns to Rebbe smiling.
Moishe: Thank you, thank you Rebbe. All of the sudden, our apartment is huge.
In conclusion, try not to be stressed but do give some credit to perfectionism, it’s not all bad. Even though I mentioned a lot of positive aspects, I think, overall, overthinking is rather nocive, especially if it makes you stressed.