- January 9, 2014
This is for everyone who wants to achieve greatness, tries too hard, and ends up driving their efforts right into the ground.
In my life, I’ve had a few notable personal achievements which I believe merited a celebration—champagne, a ticker tape parade, wild applause—but went relatively (okay, completely) unnoticed. Two come to mind:
- The time in 1989 I successfully ran down a car in traffic to deliver the greeting card I forgot to put in a customer’s grocery bag.
- In 2003, when I finished the third redesign of my site Airbag at 2am on New Year’s Eve (well, at that point, New Year’s Day).
With respect to the latter, I was sitting in front of a glowing Powerbook in a suite at the Marriott Horseshoe Bay just outside of Austin, Texas. Though there was a lot of work still to be done, I sat there for 10 minutes just staring at my own work—so proud, so happy. A week later, I launched the redesign, albeit imperfect and noted as such:
There are problems which will surely be worked out in the next week or so. All I can say is, if you use Internet Explorer 5 for Macintosh, well God help ya. It’s not that bad but something is definitely working against me with that browser. A curse upon its creators!
I realize (after Jeffrey pointed out) that the style guides could be better, faster, stronger. And I intend to make that happen in the weeks ahead. I’ll also get these pages validating XHTML Strict before you know it. Have Orange Book, will validate.
Eventually, I repaired the broken stuff and continued to make enhancements and tweaks. Life went on, and nobody cared or took inventory of everything I had done wrong. Instead, I received a lot of positive feedback.
Fast forward a few years, and despite my interest in wanting to create, I have found myself paralyzed by an obsession with perfection out of the gate. My last redesign was met with so much accolade that surely I had to outthink myself or risk ending up a fraud. On top of that, I’m President of Happy Cog, and I can’t go out on stage without having every pixel perfect, with purpose, right? (I say to myself breathing into a paper bag.)
Here’s the thing. I know I’m not alone, and I’d like to share an idea with you that will help us all. Our CEO Greg Hoy shared this article with me from a masters degree student who suffered from a similar disability.
During a guest lecture, Emilia Lahti was introduced to the concept of “satisficing”—a study by the lecturer, Dr. Barry Schwartz. Satisficing simply means not obsessing over maximizing the potential of every possible detail and every possible outcome in an effort to reach the maximum result.
For my second semester at Penn, I tried this satisficer tactic. I approached the assignments without my usual over-achiever angst and 'must seek validation for my existence on this planet and exceed all expectations' -mentality. I began my course work with a conscious attitude that “I will simply do enough, and enough is what I can do within reasonable limits. Whatever I am doing now is not nearly as serious as curing world hunger or eradicating domestic violence. So: who cares!”. The result of not giving a damn: three A’s and an A-, but most importantly I enjoyed every minute of the ride.
Though I’ve never done a doctoral study on human behavior, I’ve always referred to this mentality as “make, do.” Make with your best effort, and do what you can. Don’t let the possibility of what could be deter you from forward progress. Otherwise, how are you going to get it done without putting yourself at the risk of a stroke?
Just because I have a phrase for this doesn’t mean I follow it all the time. As I wrote earlier, I have put too many mental obstacles in the way of work and personal projects. I am ashamed to think of how many hours (nay, days) I have sat in front of Photoshop, Typecast, Coda, and Safari, tinkering with the most trivial of details that very few persons, if any at all, will ever notice.
And the even dumber part? I never finished. Nothing got done. I have a huge handful of PSD files where I started a new design and then moved on to a completely new file, because I felt I needed to start with a blank slate. Go ahead and snicker, I deserve it. I’ve been so perfection-paralyzed that I’ve let the world pass me by. If stupid had a Richter scale, it would measure VERY STUPID, or 9.7.
The pursuit of perfection must be countered by the very practical need to move forward. Our world seems to be spinning faster and faster, leaving less and less time to fret over every detail. “Make, do” doesn’t give any of us license to create crap. The quality still needs to be there but within reason, within the context of priorities.
In the spirit of “make, do,” we sent out a virtual New Years card to our friends, alumni, and newsletter subscribers that read:
Happy New Post, Essay, Comp, Deploy, Broadcast, Course, Keynote, Site, Year! Here’s to more blogging, writing, designing, developing, podcasting, speaking, and building in 2014. And please let us know when you do via @happycog. We’d like to see, read, listen, learn, watch, and share what you’re creating.
Whatever you need to tell yourself, don’t get caught up in behind-the-curtain perfection. Let it end here. I’m happy to have found a way to move on, and I hope you’ll join me.