Sitting in the back of a dimly lit conference room for a client team meeting, I listened as each team member introduced themselves. I watched the reactions of their colleagues. Standing at the front of the room, the leader smiled and offered encouragement to everyone. As the line snaked to the front corner, he called for attention.

It was time, he explained, to introduce a new face. An  industry powerhouse. Brought in to consult. To solve some challenging problems. The leader ran down a list of his impressive history. Then he pointed and asked the slender man to stand and introduce himself.

When he stood, a sly smile appeared on his face. He repeated his name. Thanked the leader for the introduction. Said he planned to work hard. Offered to help anyone in any way he could. No self-aggrandizing. Then politely explained that when he asked the leader about the role, they discussed the desire for perfection. His suggestion, “lower your standards.”

The suggestion caused laughter. It deflected the build-up. He sat down. The next person introduced themselves.

The suggestion captured my attention.

Was he right?

The perils of perfection

Many people pursue perfection. Most to the point where it paralyzes. They produce poor results. Is the answer to lower standards? To accept less?

The answer is no. With caveats.

It is possible to practice progress over perfection — and maintain high standards. The approach defines the difference. Mindset matters.

Meeting with the sculptor

A few years ago, I attended a lecture with a sculptor-in-residence at Brookgreen Gardens. Renowned enough that much of his work is public commission, he works on tight deadlines. Curious how deadlines affected the quality of his work, I asked how he handled it.

He looked me in the eye and replied, “You do the best you can do in the time you have. You give it your all and move on.”

As our discussion continued, he revealed that sometimes he does go back and continue some pieces. Others line the studio, waiting for their turn to be continued. He explained that when the time was right, the work would be there and he could bring it where he wanted. Where it needed to go. If only for him.

Writing is the same way. In fact, any work in which we express ourselves through the work holds the same promise. In return, we endeavor to do the best we can in the time we have. Then move on.

How to practice progress over perfection

This means acceptance of the situation. Instead of lamenting the short timeframe, be grateful for the opportunity. There is no room for excuses. I continue to work on removing barriers and excuses. It takes constant effort. Over time, however, it becomes habit.

The key is presence. And preparation. It takes both. Establishing a routine for focus. A set time. A defined way. Without distraction. Sometimes, brilliant focus for ten minutes is all that is needed.

In my experience, a practice that emphasizes progress over perfection yields consistently better results. With the elusive goal of perfection, it is easy to overwrite. To overtrain. To overdo it.

Watch out for masked progress

A common mistake is accepting movement for progress. Progress is a mindful investment of focus, time, and energy to reach an outcome. To bring measurable change.

The move away from perfection liberates. I choose progress. And I retain high standards.

What do you choose? How does this work for you?

About the Author Michael Santarcangelo

The founder of Security Catalyst, Michael develops exceptional leaders and powerful communicators with the security mindset for success.

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