Jun 022011

Despair, Inc - Mediocrity

(image from the glorious Despair, Inc.)

I grew up a perfectionist. And then, in my 20s, I got very, very sick.

If there’s one thing a person learns from serious or extended illness, it’s that sometimes you have to let perfection slide and go with whatever works. Illness reduces available time, energy, money, and just about anything else you can name. Once, I could create perfection by ignoring my natural limits and overextending till my goal was reached. Now, that’s really not an option. The only choice is to live within my new limits. Can’t clean your house often? Learn to live with dirt. Can’t post on the blog as much as you want? Learn to live with a light posting schedule. Have to cancel a big event that you’re not feeling up to? If you can’t force yourself, what can you do?

In the decade since my original illness, I’ve seen many other perfectionistic, Type-A women fall prey to disease. It happens so often that I’ve developed a theory: illness happens to Type As to force them to slow down and stop sweating the details. Maybe it happens because stressful lifestyles leave women prone to physical exhaustion that becomes illness. Or maybe it happens in a more touchy-feely, “life sending you a lesson you need to learn” sense. But one way or another, illness is often the teacher that sets perfectionists on the path toward a healthier approach.

As a newly minted “good enough”ist, my biggest comfort is the 80/20 Rule. According to this theory, 80% of the benefit in most fields comes from only 20% of the work you put in. After that, you receive smaller and smaller rewards as you put more and more effort into perfecting the details. Of course, 80% is only a “B.” There was a time in my life when Bs were not okay. But if you’re dealing with very limited resources, the 80/20 rule is pretty darn comforting. Who needs to waste so much more time on that last little margin? It’s not my own limitations, it’s economic efficiency!

Why bring this up now? My next couple of posts will be about a book called Good Enough is the New Perfect. The authors say that the title is a bit of a touchstone for dividing the perfectionists from the, uh, recovering perfectionists. Real perfectionists recoil at the idea of “good enough,” saying it’s the same as settling for mediocrity. But for me? These days, it’s basically my credo.

How do you feel about perfectionism versus “good enough”ism?

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