The great Greek sculptor Phidias had high standards when he was carving the statue of Athena for the Parthenon about 2,400 years ago.
According to an old story, he was busy chiseling the strands of her hair at the back of her head when an onlooker commented, "That figure is to stand 100 feet high, with its back to a wall. Who will ever know what details you are putting behind there?"
Phidias replied, "I will."
Perfectionism or a waste of time? I vote for doing the best you can at every opportunity, regardless of your line of work.
Perhaps because works of art often outlast the artist's life span, such creators are more inclined to strive for utter perfection. When Frederic Auguste Bartholdi completed the Statue of Liberty in the late 1800s, there were no airplanes or helicopters to inspect its detail from the air.
Yet many years later, when helicopters can hover close overhead, it is clearly evident that the sculptor meticulously finished every detail of the lady's coiffure and crown without "cheating" in any area that could not be seen from the ground.
Clearly, Bartholdi was a perfectionist. He wanted to create a thing of beauty that was perfect from every point of view and over any period of time. He did his absolute best because he could. That's a good principle to follow when creating anything of lasting value.
"Perfect" may be the ultimate praise, but trying to attain perfection can cause stress, hinder efficiency and create unnecessary conflicts with the people around you. A more productive goal is excellence -- meeting the highest standards agreed upon for oneself or by a group.
I find that if I set a goal for myself, get the best coaching available, practice the right concepts and give it all I've got, there is nothing more I can do. I've done the best I can humanly do, so there is no reason to stress out and be nervous. I take my lead from my longtime friend, Coach Lou Holtz, who said: "Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."
Attitude is central to assessing your ability and pushing it to its maximum. To move from strict perfectionism to the pursuit of excellence, may I recommend you consider these suggestions:
-- Be realistic. When you find yourself becoming frantic about a goal, stop and ask, "Is this goal really worth all the frustration I'm experiencing?" You cannot do your best work when you are preoccupied with worry.
-- Establish clear expectations. If you know what's expected of you, you can better track your progress and draw boundaries when needed. Then you can move forward with the project instead of trying to alter it just for appearance's sake.
-- Identify your triggers. Learn to recognize the factors that lead or contribute to your perfectionist thinking and behaviors, and avoid them. That does not mean you give any less than your best; just be aware that you can undermine a terrific outcome by nitpicking minor details.
-- Delegate. Many perfectionists mistakenly believe that they, and only they, can complete the task at hand. Allow other people to assist you, which will improve the odds that a group will more easily reach excellence.
-- Know what's important. Consult with friends, colleagues and your boss about the most crucial points of the project at hand. Analyzing your objectives, then narrowing down key points and agreements, allows everyone to measure his or her performance accurately.
One note of caution: When you think you've arrived at excellence and can now relax ... BEWARE! Contemplate the lesson learned from the window washer of the Empire State Building in New York. After doing a superb job with the windows on the 116th floor, he made the mistake of stepping back to admire his work.
Mackay's Moral: Never apologize for doing your best.