When Flaw-Finding Gets in Your Way, Try Asking Yourself This Question

Jan 5, 2023 | Identity

If you’re a perfectionist like me, you’ve probably already noticed the flaw in this sign. The fact that bicycles can’t actually dismount reflected an error I just couldn’t NOT see.

I stopped to snap the shot, then saw that the photo was flawed: off-center and overexposed. I was ready to delete it from my phone when I realized that the flaws in it didn’t matter. While not pretty, it still captures the idea.

Then I saw that the same applies to the sign. It still functions well enough. Bicyclists get the message.

Perfectionism.

Here’s what I know about this tendency to be super detail-oriented and REALLY want things to be “right.”

First, it is incredibly useful. Especially for careers like medicine and writing. Noticing a seemingly small feature on a physical exam or pathology report could have a significant impact on a patient’s life. Getting the punctuation right in an article reduces confusion and makes it easier to read.

The tendency also has drawbacks when taken too far or applied in the wrong situation. For example:

  • Having unrealistic expectations of family members leading to relationship conflicts
  • Experiencing stress when things in your life are off, even if the implications aren’t important
  • Wasting energy getting things just so, when you could be putting it towards something that really matters or really needed detailed attention

We don’t want to excise a useful skill and at the same time, we want to mitigate its negative effects.

How?

I like to borrow this slogan from my friends in Al-Anon: How Important Is It?

  1. Does the photo need to be crystal clear for you to get the idea?
  2. Does the signage on the bike path need to be grammatically correct to make its point about safety?
  3. Or, in the clinical realm, does exactly designed formatting in a patient’s note matter to clinical care?

Keep your high standards. Just consider trying a bit of flexibility in your work and personal life–when you’ve discerned that perfect may not be necessary in that instance.

This week ask yourself throughout the day, How Important Is It? See if you feel a bit less stress, a bit freer.

P.S.: It’s especially helpful when parenting teenagers

[ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ]

Diane W. Shannon

MD, MPH, ACC

Diane Shannon is an award-winning writer, author, and coach. Since leaving practice as a primary care physician due to burnout, she has worked to support physicians in achieving their personal and professional goals and to highlight the changes needed to reduce burnout, improve career satisfaction, and protect the bidirectional healing power of the patient-physician relationship.

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