Perfect is not the same as perfectionism

Perfectionism is a cudgel and a way to hide.

Perfect is the often-attainable outcome of meeting spec. “That’s perfect!” says the delighted patron.

Modern perfect: A plane that doesn’t crash, a bus that leaves on time. Surgery that fixes a broken valve and a computer program that doesn’t cause a kernel panic. These are the building blocks of our built world.

Perfectionism is a way to berate others for not meeting imaginary standards. Or berating ourself as a way to avoid shipping the work.

The perfectionist desires an outcome that can never be achieved. That’s why they’re a perfectionist–to hide behind the impossible.

Few things outside of mathematics are ever truly perfect. But our definition of spec gives us room to do the work. The bus that comes early does no one any favors.

Making promises and keeping them is the path of someone who seeks to contribute. We need better specs, usefully functioning systems and more reliable promises.

Holding back for too long because it could be somehow better than spec, though, is a way to avoid contributing. And using power or privilege to insist that others meet our ever-increasing but ever-less-useful standards is unhelpful.

Better? Sure. Work for that.

But perfectionism is a defect.