November 1, 2022

I’m afraid of exposing my work to the public

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Americans love nothing more than being the best.

Our capitalistic culture of achievement and perfectionism is so deeply and unconsciously ingrained. From sports to career to families to children to finance to confirmed cases of coronavirus, we’re number one, we’re number one!

In fact, we’ve been conditioned to believe that feeling content with the merely excellent, rather than the absolute best, is unpatriotic.

What do you mean you don’t want to be the greatest in the world? What are you, a communist?

As the legendary race car driver once observed:

If you ain’t first, you’re last.

But this competitive spirit, despite it being undeniable fuel for countless accomplishments, can have an adverse effect on our lives.

Constantly trying to be the best put undue pressure on ourselves. We tell this noble story that we come from a place where good enough is never good enough, and it’s a prescription for misery.

My former coworker was a classic perfectionist. Our company was doing a redesign of our massively outdated website, and this person single handedly stalled that project three months longer than necessary.

We did our best to keep moving the work forward, set deadlines, ignore irrelevant feedback and make changes that were good enough.

But that didn’t cut the mustard little miss blue ribbon.

Our website was going to be perfect. Which, if you have ever worked at startup before, is basically code for, I’m afraid of exposing my work to the public because of what people will think about it.

If you’ve ever been trapped in the vortex of besting before, you know how exasperating it can be.

One tool that has helped me cope with this distress is called the unfinish line. It’s the practice of treating the creative process as an imperfect and noncompetitive practice that never ends. Whatever project you’re working on, from day one you can remind yourself that it doesn’t have to be the greatest thing that ever was.

Because most coworkers and customers won’t even notice anyway. And so, why make the process any harder on yourself than it needs to be?

Unamerican as this may seem, it’s a surefire way to reduce workplace stress while still getting great work done. The unfinish line helps us attain more realistic and balanced perceptions of our creative ideas. We gain a real sense of proportion to determine what is actually good enough, and just get on making the damn thing.

The results probably won’t be earth shattering and award winning, but then again, progress trumps perfection.

Shipping twelve good enough things each year is far more valuable than shipping one amazing thing every twelve years.

Americans don’t typically approach their work in this manner, since they’re afraid it might be an affront to our beloved founding fathers.

But those men were far from perfect, and yet, manage to be quite prolific.

What if you aimed for volume and speed over quality and accuracy?