I recently came upon this quote by John Steinbeck, and it got me thinking about a lot of things.
‘And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.’John Steinbeck, East of Eden
If I were to tell a younger me or a newly hired junior colleague one thing, it would be: ‘You don’t have to be perfect here, you just have to be. We want you to be.’
And why not? The way I see it, we let perfect get in the way of being consistent, which is one thing I wish I knew before entering the working space. We fall into the trap of thinking that the way to do good work is by having to be perfect for the job. Sometimes we feel we are not qualified for a job because we did not tick all the requirements, so we stall in sending out our resumes but then, are companies really after perfect people?
What does perfect mean?
At various points in my career, I have sat with HR to go over the qualities we want our next candidate to possess. I have gone through a good number of applicants feedback from our engineering team and I’ve done my fair share of performance appraisals, but not once was the criteria for success being perfect.
For me, perfect is a myth and every time we use the word, what we mean is ‘good work.’ Being on the right track means doing well at what we are assigned to do. We can’t do good work without committing positive performance over and over again until it becomes a thing – until it becomes who we are.
When we say that someone has the perfect experience on their resume, what we mean is that they tick yes to most, if not all of the requirements listed on the job posting, they can be found wanting in some areas, but the key thing is how much of a learner they are and if they have shown exceptional promise in their field.
Who would you work with?
We want to work with someone consistent in doing the things they know how to do. We want someone open to learning and not afraid to communicate what they want. We want someone that people can vouch for, someone we trust to get the job done. Someone who has shown resilience and knowledge in how they handled their previous projects because consistency is what gets the job done. Consistency breeds progress; progress brings results and sets you up for success.
And what does positive performance mean? Showing up on time, being trustworthy and reliable, being a great team player, being consistent – This is what comes up in performance appraisals, not how perfect we were on the job.
Here’s a question – Have you ever delayed sending out a project you’re working on because you felt it had to be good enough before turning it in? Did you ever get to turn it in?
Perfect does not come up in performance appraisals.
In the entrepreneur.com, Neil Patel wrote, ‘Trying to make something perfect can prevent us from making it just good.’ He goes further to write, ‘The perfect is the enemy of the good.’
Progress is what matters. Are you consistent in what you signed up willingly for? Why do we aim for perfect? Is good bad? Why can’t we aim for good work and take it from there?
Look at it this way – You finished watching a cooking show and you are fascinated by how Ronke of 9jaFoodie prepared her Afang soup, so you decide you are going to make yours exactly the way she described the steps in her video. It is going well, as you keep following the steps until you get to ‘Add a tbsp of oil which is equivalent to 15 ml,’ but you don’t have the measuring spoons. Yes, you have a regular spoon, but there is no way you can know for sure if what you have is equivalent to 15ml as described in the video. Does this spoil the chances of the food coming out good? You have two options – stop and throw the food out or continue with the process.
When we wait for perfect, it never comes. If you’d waited for when you buy a measuring spoon, you might never come around to cooking your Afang soup.
When we remove perfect from the equation, what’s left?
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”Steve Jobs
When we remove perfect from the equation, all that is left is good. Go on, be kind to yourself, and do good work. You are in the good place, and everything is fine.
Continue to be consistent and keep showing up. You don’t have to be perfect here. You just have to be.