You don't need to be perfect at work. Here’s how to adopt a different mindset.

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Being perfect, at work or at home, sounds like a great goal. It can motivate you and engage you, but it can also lead to working longer hours and the inability to disengage. In a study that looked at the relationship between perfectionism and employees’ effectiveness, the need to be perfect is strongly and consistently related with burnout, anxiety, and depression. 

But if you strive to be perfect at work, you’re not alone. Another study found the need to be perfect has increased over time, citing the comparisons with each other on social media and the competitive environments in colleges and employers as the main culprits.

It’s easy to compare yourself to coworkers, other people in your industry, your manager, and a whole host of other people you interact with. If you find yourself having thoughts like, “X is better at this than me”, or “Why am I not as smart/capable as Y?” it's time to evaluate your idea of perfection. 

It’s a tough mindset to change, but altering it can free yourself up from various productivity roadblocks. 

If you’re constantly seeking perfection, and you can’t seem to achieve the version of perfect that you’re working towards, it becomes incredibly demotivating. Working towards something that is unattainable means you’re constantly in a cycle of feeling not good enough. And if you’re feeling that way, it’s likely you won’t be able to open up at work and build a true connection with your co-workers, team members, and manager. It also means that you’re not learning and growing. If you can’t accept, move on, and learn from failure—however small—if you’re not the most effective employee you can be. 

Our careers require the ability to evolve and learn based on our surroundings. We like to think about career paths as a journey that can have twists, turns, and speed bumps, not a linear road to perfection. 

At Elastic, we have a tenet of our Source Code titled Progress, SIMPLE Perfection. In it, it states right up front that perfection is not a destination. Instead, we’d rather have Elasticians make informed decisions and run with it. “An Elastic that moves is an Elastic that survives, thrives, and stands the test of time.”

But, while we can preach that, it doesn’t help someone with their own internal perfection battle. Here are a few ways to get out of the “I need to be perfect” mindset.

Change your viewpoint

First, think about the way you view perfection on a project or task you’re working on. Consider why you view that as the only successful outcome and then challenge yourself to be OK with reaching smaller, more manageable milestones. Not only can projects change as they evolve, that’s how we learn. Iterating on a project, asking for help, and having an end result that isn’t your idea of perfection might actually be a better outcome than your original plan—and it will teach you something along the way. 

Schedule check-ins

Whether it’s with yourself, a friend, your manager, or someone you trust, schedule a time to reflect on a recurring cadence. It might help to do this weekly to start and then move it as you start to more quickly identify your perfectionist tendencies. 

These check-ins can be as quick as asking yourself a few of the following questions:

  • When did I strive for perfection this week?
  • What was the trigger to feeling this way?
  • What was the situation and the outcome? 
  • How can I improve next time?

Set deadlines

Deadlines might be something that is innately built into your job. For example, a writer has deadlines for when articles are due and salespeople have deadlines to meet their quotas. But, if your job doesn’t have these hard and fast deadlines, add them in for yourself. 

If there is no defined ending, you can easily spiral down the thought path of “this isn’t perfect yet.” Instead, give yourself a deadline, try your hardest, and then ship it off to your manager. Be proud of the outcome and remember that perfection isn’t the goal. 

Be open to failure

Failure is a funny word because it has a negative connotation, but it can be incredibly positive when used to your advantage. When you complete a task, we all want it to be a reflection of our work and expertise, but it’s important to remember we are not our work. In fact, the best learning opportunities come when you’ve objectively “failed” at something and were given the direction and knowledge on how to fix it. 

Gayle Berkeley, Principal Security Risk and Compliance Analyst says of Elastic, “I like that we show as we go, and people here like to work together, comment, and shape things. We’re not aiming for perfection right off the bat. It’s been amazing to realize that I can confidently make steps in one direction and if it isn’t right, I can course correct and that’s OK.”

Being open to doing something wrong and learning from it is one of the best ways to learn on the job. It’s also the hallmark of a great employee—someone that strives to do well but is open to other, more efficient or effectives ways of doing things. This is another aspect of our Source Code. We embrace a high failure rate and encourage Elasticians to take the space to fail, learn, and try again. 

Looking to join a company that embraces imperfections? We’re hiring.

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