Whether the Job Be Great or Small

Often high achievers are plagued with a combination of two conflicting interests, a sense of perfectionism and a wide range of desirable activities. Perhaps most successful people experience this to some degree. What should we do when this is the case?

Perfectionism Drives Achievement

Obviously, taken to the extreme, perfectionism can be a negative. We are all familiar with what is called the “paralysis of analysis.” But a significant degree of perfectionism drives us to achieve high marks in school and success in our work.

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When young I was indoctrinated with the old saying, “Whether the job be great or small, do it well or not at all.” It drove me to achieve reasonably high grades in school and eventually to continue my education until I earned a doctorate.

This attitude contributes to the degree of success the perfectionists have in all of life’s activities. Look at the Olympics. We watch in amazement at what some of these athletes can do, perhaps even more at their ability to focus for years on honing their skills.

No One Can Do It All

Here is the big problem with perfectionism. It inevitably leads to a great conflict that can affect life in a very negative way.

It can easily lead to something akin to an actual psychological problem called OCD! While it may not cross over the line, it is easy to get so focused on one or two things that a person neglects all other personal interests, even responsibilities such as to family life.

Dollar sign logo Observation:

I have known people over the years who were so focused on their work that they had no other interests. When they retired they had nothing they knew how to do nor interest in trying anything new.

Two men I knew lived about two blocks apart. When one retired he built a shop in his garage where he did woodworking. The other sat in his living room and looked out the window. Occasionally he would walk down to his friend’s home and watch him build cabinets, but he never did figure out anything to do with himself.

The flip side of focusing on one thing is the denial of opportunities to do things you might like because you do not have time to do them well. Perfectionists will not go bowling with friends even though they think it might be fun because they cannot do it well.

How to Harness Perfectionism

Perfectionism is an attitude. And attitudes are no more than habits of thought. To harness this habit, we need to modify the habit or attitude by substituting a new one.

Years ago, fortunately for me, I figured out that there was something wrong with the old “do it well” line we started out with here. Like many ideas we hear, it is only partially true.

Certainly, some things we do need to be done well. Sadly, some people never learn to do anything well and until they do, success will elude them. But doing some things well does not require doing everything well!

Attitude Affirmation:

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Some things are worth doing well; other things are just worth doing!

Here is the attitude I recommend. A very few things should be done extremely well—our job for example, a number of other things should be done moderately well, and a lot of things should be done for fun without regard for how well they are done at all.

With this attitude you will not only become more successful with your money, you will experience greater success in all of life.

Choosing Our Attitude

It pays to develop skill in dealing with perfectionism. The secret is to consciously learn to categorize all of our activities into one of these three areas so that we can enjoy all of them: things to do well, things to do moderately well and things to do for fun.

Try doing this in your own life. I think you will find that it is another one of the skills that it pays to develop.