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Overcoming TPA – The Perfection Affliction

Does everything have to be perfect for you to be happy?  Then you may be suffering from TPA (The Perfection Affliction).  Take a spoonful of ‘good enough’ with a glass of ‘finish it’ once a day until symptoms are gone.   Perfection is another condition we sometimes place on our ability to experience happiness.

When God created the world, on the sixth day he said, “It is very good”.  He didn’t say it was perfect.   I figure, if ‘very good’ is good enough for God; it is certainly good enough for me.  I believe perfection can become a form of self-abuse if it is at the expense of a greater good, or used as an excuse for not completing something because it’s not perfect yet.  Don’t make perfection a prerequisite to your happiness in a job well done or a project finished.

As for me, I subscribe to a ‘very good’ motto. Heck, if I had waited for perfection I would not have started this blog.

Some newly married friends of mine who were building a small cabin kept getting into arguments over how things should be done.  He was a perfectionist, and she just wanted to ‘get things done’.  They were able to work things out by naming each other Mr. Perfectionist and Ms. Half-baked, and laughing about it.  Of course, they called me Ms. Good Enough.

Perfection is relative.  In business situations customer requirements usually define perfection.    Many books are written about achieving excellence in the workplace by listening to customer’s desires.

At one company where I worked we spent a great deal of time designing the ‘perfect’ small power plant and responded to over 20 proposal requests in one month.  The result was – no takers.  Our plant was over built and thus overpriced.  In our design we had considered requirements and the ‘human factor’ necessities like painted and color coded pipes just as we did for the nuclear plants we were accustomed to working on.  It was a beautiful design.  But you guessed it.  Our steam plant customers didn’t need or want all the extras that are necessary in a nuclear plant.   We failed to ask our customers what their idea of perfect was.  Back to the drawing board.  It was an expensive lesson.

Sometimes perfect is necessary, especially in the case of safety or when precision is required.  We certainly want our surgeon to be perfect and precise when taking out our appendix.  And, we want specific and stringent requirements that are well-defined and implemented in our nuclear power plants.

As another example, even though I am Ms. Good Enough, when I was erecting an aluminum greenhouse in my garden space,  I knew If I didn’t get the foundation and base perfectly square and level, the rest of the frame would be off-square and the window panels wouldn’t fit.  (But even then, there was a tiny bit of jiggle room. Ha, ha, I win.) Here is a picture of my greenhouse-build in progress.

The posts for my grapevine trellis, however, are not lined up perfectly. I encountered too many big rocks when digging the post holes and had to place two posts off-center.  No big deal.  It still does the job, and after the vines have spread you won’t even be able to see it.   Here is a picture of my grapevine trellis.

One way to determine the need for technical perfection is to ask yourself, “Do specific requirements exist and for what reason, and must I meet those requirements to achieve my goal?  For my greenhouse, square and level were prerequisites to ensure the rest of the building would go up correctly.   Not so important for my trellis.

If you can’t define what perfection looks like or you try to meet other people’s definition of it, you will probably abuse yourself trying to find it.  You may agonize over your inability to find it, and may end up never finishing something because it never became ‘perfect’.  You will suffer from TPA.

There are probably many good books that were never finished because the author never found the illusive perfection.  And what good is a house that is always ‘perfectly’ cleaned and magazine ready if it isn’t a home? Or a car that always has to be perfectly clean and you can’t drive it in the rain, or eat fast food in it while rushing to get the kids from school to dance lessons and soccer practice.

When you are rarely satisfied with your performance, because it isn’t ‘perfect’, your negative feelings about yourself can affect your self-esteem. You may procrastinate on starting or finishing something because you are afraid you will not live up to perfection.

Many times we impose technically perfect requirements on things unnecessarily just for the sake of perfection.  Striving for perfection that is neither defined nor required can bring much stress and unhappiness into your life.  Realize that perfection is relative to the situation.

I am happy with my greenhouse that is perfectly level and square.   I am also happy with my grapevine trellis that is not ‘perfectly’ aligned but holds up the vines well and looks nice. I have achieved my perfection – my Happy Place.

Consider this definition of perfect in your personal life.   If it meets your requirements, contributes to your happiness, and is good enough for you, it is perfect.

Look around you and think about the things that are perfect for you in your life.    Be grateful and don’t agonize about whether they meet someone else’s idea of perfect.

Don’t use TPA as an excuse to not starting or finish something.  Finish something you started and make it good enough for you.  You will feel good about the accomplishment.

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