01 February 2010

Perfection versus excellence

I received my course details for the second last subject of my Masters of Communication today. The subject before the thesis.

There is one month tomorrow until uni starts back. I am excited, but apprehensive at the same time. All the subjects except for one in the Masters course have been ones I've known how to do, or had some skills or knowledge to apply to the subject throughout the semester.

- Writing journalistic pieces and essays.
- Researching for journalistic pieces.
- Researching for essays.
- Editing.
- Experience in organisational communication and marketing.
- Analysing media.
- Blogging.

The subject I've struggled the most with to date is graphic design - bookmaking. I really enjoyed the subject, and have made some beautiful books, but I just couldn't grasp the actual design part of the subject. It probably would have been better for me to have studied some graphic design at TAFE or at the undergraduate level before taking it on at masters level. This isn't to say I did a bad job in the subject. I did pretty well, but I push myself very hard, and wanted to do better.

I've done well in all subjects which I am very proud of. I love this course. This is different to my undergraduate degree where I disliked all but about two subjects - I found the subjects I disliked boring and difficult, and wasn't sure how to apply them, but the ones I like I can apply to real life situations and found interesting.

The upcoming subject next semester is research strategies. The many many pages of reading that I haven't yet read through indicates that we'll be learning about various research methodologies, probably statistics and also attending multiple classes including weekend classes. Wow.

I'm a bit scared. Because these are the things I'm not very good at.

I know that in life, we need to do things that we're not good at. I have enjoyed this course so much that I don't want to let myself down by not enjoying it or not doing well (ie - not achieving a distinction).

It's strange how the things we are not good at we are scared of.

Sometimes I leave things until the last minute, scared to start, in case I don't do it perfectly. These are usually essays or other written pieces. That seems silly because I know writing is my strength. But I worry I may miss the point of the question, or not relate the concepts to references, or that my writing won't make sense because I am not really clear on the content.

Writing an essay is much different to writing something in plain English for a company audience, which is what I do on a daily basis at work. Usually at work, the information is presented to me already, and I just 'translate' it or edit it. And writing a blog is really colloquial and I usually write how I speak.

Conclusions of essays are my weakness, and I'm actually trying to refine my skills on this by writing this blog. I really hope come next subject, and then my thesis, I have refined my skills enough to write really good, concise and memorable conclusions.

I am genuinely nervous about my research strategies subject and the thesis. I have an idea, but I don't know whether I have enough skills to research it. And I also know I shouldn't worry because worry makes stress and stress means soreness and soreness means hospital and hospital means a long recovery time. I will try to be calm.

I guess the thing with striving for perfection is worrying that the final product won't be perfect and so we don't give ourselves enough time to make it perfect because we are too busy putting it off.

I wrote a blog post in 2008, on my Myspace blog about a conversation I had with my manager about perfection versus excellence. Here it is:

My very wise and intelligent manager set me some homework over the weekend.

I was telling her how I was disappointed with my assignment result - even though I got a credit, I aimed higher.

She asked me to have a think about the difference between excellence and perfection.

So I did, and this is what I came up with.

Perfection is when you are completely satisfied with the end product and you don't think it needs refining.

And excellence is when your audience is satisfied with your end product.

That means, my audience was a newspaper readership, I wrote it well enough for them, therefore it had to be excellent. Well, in my eyes, it was good.

So when I discussed this with her and my other manager today, she agreed.

She told me not to beat myself up over not producing perfect work, and to have a think about who my audience is.

Most of the work I do is for other people, and in the academic world, my audience is a readership. Thus, it only has to be excellent, not perfect.

And when I am producing something for myself, that's when I put in the hard yards to ensure it's perfect. That's when I slave.

I love these little words of wisdom we exchange.

Whenever I embark on a new uni assignment or project at work, I try to think of this conversation about perfection versus excellence.

I hope I pluck up some confidence with these next two subjects and just do an excellent job, instead of worrying unnecessarily to achieve perfection.


  1. Good luck. I am not a perfectionist but I know a lot of people who are and it does stop them from doing things...hope you are feeling better.

  2. Thanks FF - I am doing good :)
    Just had a bit of down day yesterday.

  3. Great Post, i can really relate to the procrastination bit. The heavy burden of perfection and the fear of failure that comes along with it for me are huge issues.

  4. Thanks Alex
    I went to this seminar once and the guy said that people who strive for perfection often procrastinate as they are worried about starting something they may fail.
    I'm not this extreme with many things, just the things I may fail at (essays!)

  5. I do this too! It's frustrating, as I stress myself out unnecessarily by being afraid of the work, even though I can do it and invariably do well. I think a part of me is afraid of not producing brilliant work. I am pretty average in general, so I am not quite certain why I am so obsessed with producing above average work (which I definitely don't produce when I am procrastinating anyway!)

    When I started my MSc, a professor commented that an important skill in graduate school and in life is to know when your work is good enough. It's not necessarily worth spending 4 hours extra on an assignment "perfecting" it, if it will have a minimal impact on the overall quality. That four hours could be better used decompressing or doing other work. It's hard to get that into the minds of a bunch of achievers who are anxious to excel, and I have found it very anxiety-provoking to "let go" and hand things in (but what if it isn't good enough!?), but I imagine this will come in time, with practice and experience of what is 'good enough'.


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