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Progress Over Perfection – Friday Fundamentals

You are planning a road trip that will take you across the country, from Portland Maine driving south to Tampa, Florida. But being the perfectionist, Type-A person you are, you want to make sure everything for your trip is planned just right. That includes making sure you avoid every bit of traffic, travel when there is only good weather, and never even so much as hit a red light. Sounds ridiculous, right? With that perfect of a trip expected, you wouldn’t make it past the Casco Bay Bridge into South Portland, much less ever make it to Florida.

If you instead committed to driving to Tampa, Florida with the expectations that you will come across unforeseen circumstances along the way, then you can best prepare for those now and start your journey knowing you’ll make it to those sunny and sandy beaches regardless of what the open road challenges you with. Not to mention, you’ll have your feet in the sand before you would have even left your front door, had you waited for the world to align to your perfect conditions. 

This is where so many of us find ourselves in our daily lives, although we may not realize it. We’re waiting for the perfect time to do that thing we’ve been thinking about and putting off. We want to wait for the right time, have it all figured out, and be completely prepared for every realistic and unrealistic scenario we can imagine.

We find ourselves at the crossroads of progress and perfection. On one hand, we don’t want to make any hasty moves that may incur unnecessary risk. Therefore, we put off taking action thinking we are avoiding risk. But what we often don’t realize is not taking action doesn’t mean we’re avoiding risk. In fact, not acting is a risk in itself. Darned if you do, darned if you don’t!

We are wired to avoid risk wherever possible. But this risk aversion can sometimes come at our own detriment. We may miss out on opportunities, unknowingly incur risk by staying in our same risky situation, or worse, never even experiencing the feelings of taking calculated actions and overcoming our own hurdles in life.

This is what psychologists call loss aversion, which refers to a person’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses rather than acquiring equivalent gains (Wikipedia). Simply put, it is better to not lose $5 rather than to find $5. Do you keep what you have, or strive for more?

Striving for perfection comes with opportunity costs. Opportunity cost refers to the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. In other words, you cost yourself other opportunities by striving for perfection, rather than making progress. In the tech world, when a product is being designed, the developer will release a Beta version, which its purpose is to test market conditions, receive feedback, identify bugs, and in return, the developer improves the product in iterations, based on those inputs. Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, is a popular case study for this topic. Although he was a notoriously fierce perfectionist, even he released the early version of the iPhone with flaws. Think of the difference in technology between the first iPhone and the latest model. Had Steve Jobs waited to launch the iPhone until it was perfect, you might be carrying around a BlackBerry, Motorola Razr, or Nokia phone instead.

Think back to a time when you were faced with a big decision- maybe a new job offer, deciding on where to attend college, proposing to your significant other, or moving to a new place for instance. Think of the feelings and emotions you had. On one hand, you’re excited, and on the other, you’re nervous about taking that next step and reviewing all the risks that come with it. Hopefully, you thought through the decision, weighed your options, and made the decision that was best for you with the information you had at the time. That’s how I have experienced life – a series of these decisions. Your life is a culmination of the decisions you’ve made. Your thoughts, decisions, and actions have led you over the years to where you are now.

Tips for taking action:

  • Commit to one step, then the next. Don’t look at the entire journey, but just your next step.
  • Accept you’ll make mistakes. The only wrong decision is not making one.

“Any action is often better than no action, especially if you have been stuck in an unhappy situation for a long time. If it is a mistake, at least you learn something, in which case it’s no longer a mistake. If you remain stuck, you learn nothing.” – Eckhart Tolle

  • Ryan Holiday, in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, suggests you should find the obstacles in your life and focus your effort there. That is where you will find accomplishment, fulfillment, and results. So next time you’re feeling indecisive or unsure of what to do, look for the obstacle in your life and tackle it. 

We each have something in our lives that we can progress, rather than perfect. For you, maybe it’s starting that new business idea, investing in that real estate deal you’ve been considering, planning that bucket list trip, or moving to that dream location. Whatever it is for you, start taking action now. Even with the smallest step, do something today that will put you one step closer to making that dream a reality. Soon enough you’ll have accomplished what once was only a dream and you’ll thank yourself for starting right now, today. 


The Obstacle is the Way

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