Being a perfectionist kills your chances of _______

by morgan · 5 comments


The biggest impediment I see to most people’s success (not only in science careers) is perfectionism.

You can’t be a perfectionist and be successful. Period. End of story.

I’m not talking about doing shoddy work here – one should always strive for excellence.

But excellence is an ongoing process, whereas perfection is an unachievable end state. There is no perfection in the universe.

If you don’t believe me, try to draw a mathematically perfect circle.

Bet you can’t do it.

Nobody can. It is impossible. Quantum physics won’t let you locate atoms or electrons precisely enough to achieve it.

So if you set out to draw a perfect circle, you’ll never get there.

Just the same – if you set out for perfection in your scientific work, you’ll never get there.

I have seen perfectionism destroy more than one career.

It is particularly pernicious when it involves your own judgement.

See, in a job, or in an undergraduate class, you don’t have to worry about “perfection” because you’ve usually got documented standards for “perfect” to go by.

To get an A in a class, the teacher sets forth exactly what you must do. And so you do it (or not) and get the A (or not).

But the world of science, from Graduate School onward, isn’t like that. There is no pre-set criteria for “perfection” (or even for an A grade). There is simply a set of human interpretations about what works and what doesn’t, or about what is the “right” and what is “wrong” way to interpret data. That doesn’t mean there’s an actual eye in the sky judging what is “right” and “wrong” – just human guesses at it (guesses which are often proven wrong in the lens of history).

Many people let this trip them up. I have let this trip myself up – countless times in my career.

But trying to achieve perfection gets in the way of doing. But you have to be constantly doing to really get anywhere.

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