Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Enemy...

I've come to realize today that I have an enemy. Actually, I know I've had this enemy for quite some time now, I'm just finally realizing that I have to stand up, say "fuck you" and shoot the sum'bitch down. To say my enemy has made things difficult is an understatement - he has made my work suffer, and has intimidated me into near paralysis. My performance suffers because of it. My career could very well suffer because of it. And if that happens, my family will definitely suffer, all due to my enemy who has recently revealed himself to me.

Perfection...the enemy of good enough. Now I would not call myself a perfectionist - at least not "openly" so. I'm perfectly happy to get by on many things, particularly when I'm doing them for myself. I determine what is needed and get it done well and I am satisfied.

But when I have a requirement placed on me - to deliver "up the chain" - things can get out of hand in a hurry. I look at what needs to be done, determine the specified and implied tasks, and the mental mayhem begins. Question after question mulled over, detail after detail piled on, constantly looking to add more and more.

I feel that if I leave even the tiniest hole...anything up to question - "have you thought about?" - that I have failed. That I was not up to the task to begin with. Now this has a place - in a final product, presented to a customer, or a plan that places people and equipment "on the line" you need this level of attention. But in something like a proposal, an outline, a brief position paper, this is ruinous.

And I end up there often; I'm looking way too deep, doing way too much, and after stress, hand wringing and way too much work, I pare things way down and produce something more reasonable. It's usually what should be done in the first place, but the mental byproduct of my effort is that I am thoroughly unhappy with the product and myself, even if it is in itself correct.

Alternately, I'll let the thinking and "what if"-ing drive me into an overwhelmed paralysis, squander too much time, and produce something at or near the last minute that embodies too much effort for the result. Again, almost always "on target" but the net effect of the process is to deflate my opinion of my own abilities.

It applies to my writing, too. It's part of the reason I do not post as often as I want. Mentally I am reading and re-reading as I type, becoming unhappy with it while it's coming out, then deleting and re-writing. So that a piece like this that should take 20 minutes takes 45.

So...I need to break a habit. And that habit is striving for perfection when perfection isn't called for.

Sometimes, good enough is.


Randal Graves said...

Damn you, Henry Armitage!

But seriously, it's a horrendous cycle, whether caused by internal or external stimuli, events or people and it can do the chew you up and spit you out dance.

Don't be perfect, just be good. You have control over the latter, and none over the former. That shit is mystical.

B.O.B.(bob) said...

Sounds like you are my polar opposite. I can't stand planning. I'm much better at reacting. This holds true from work down to what types of games I prefer. I greatly prefer doubles tennis to singles since it's much more suited to quick reactions and knowledge of basic tactics. No long term setting up points no tyrying to move your opponents out of position. If they make a mistake, instantly take advantage.

Same is true with games I'm doomed in a true strategy game (say chess) unless I can force my opponent to screw up and move the game to a tactical game.

At work I'm much better at fixing problems than planning on how to avoid them in the 1st place. If something goes wrong I can instantly come up with ways to fix it. If I have to do some long term planning I find I generally come up with a plan and stick with it makign very few changes unless pressed.

I think this is a function of the fact that if I were growing up today I'd almost certainly be diagnosed as having ADD (doctor said I was borderline hyperactive as a kid). I've very good at paying attention to lots of different things at once. If forced to pay attention to one thing, my mind starts wandering almost instantly.

MRMacrum said...

I still re-visit old blog posts and edit them. Even though I know no one will notice. I gave up looking for perfection and just try to find better. A post/piece will often languish while I tweak into what I hope is better. But more often than not, I end up taking the heart of it out. My first effort is often my best shot at getting it right. I am learning to adjust it as little as possible, besides the normal cleaning up of grammar/spelling, etc. I am an editor's dream I would imagine.

I know I will never write like the gifted writers I grew up reading. And that makes it easier to deal with. I just shoot for my best effort.

The one thing I have found though. The more I have written, the better or easier the process seems. So just write and write lots. You don't have post it.

Chef Cthulhu said...

Randal - I know man, thanks. I'm going to focus more on the latter. And I think I'm going to start by trying to write fiction for the Innsmouth Free Press...

B.O.B. - actually, much of my frustration comes because I am more like you than not. I found I have functioned much better in some of the honest-to-Azathoth crises I've experienced when deployed; Hell I thrive in them. Unfortunately, being the boss in this organization means I need to guide the planning...and then react when it meets with reality.

Crum - I'll re-read a post once or twice in the day after I post it, and edit it sometimes. And you're right about writing and writing lots. Wish there was a corrolary for work. Just produce and produce lots. Maybe if I was in the porn industry...