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  • Writer's pictureClaire Matuka

Why your work can never be perfect

I like to think that perfectionism is a double edged sword. On one end, it pushes you to get stuff done to the best of your ability. On the other end, it can potentially stall you because, what exactly defines "perfect"? What's the cut-off for perfect?

The perfect conclusion

Allow me to geek out for a bit here. Warning! My example may be math/statistics related. As I was doing my undergraduate, I got introduced to statistical hypothesis tests. Now these tests usually look something like this:

Null Hypothesis: A (For example: Men and women spend the same amount of money on clothes)

Alternative Hypothesis: B (For example: Men and women do not spend the same amount of money on clothes)

So, you carry out some cool calculations and based on some threshold value, conclude to either run with the null hypothesis, or the alternative hypothesis. Here's the thing though, whatever you conclude is never with 100% certainty. It's either 99%, 95%, 90%. I am basically saying, that even in statistics, there is no perfect conclusion. All we have is "close enough to perfect".

Unrealistic perfection

I find that sometimes, we try to achieve some unrealistic level of perfection (me especially). In our career and work, we often tend to get carried away by this cloud.

As a data scientist, you want to know every single supervised machine learning algorithm before you can even master up the courage to run a linear regression (probably what is best at the time).

You want to master every single programming language before you can even apply for a job. Heck, a few months ago, I could not post an article because the information was not perfect, or it was not relatable enough, or I was not an accredited writer. There is always something.

Karl and Bertha Benz

Not too long ago, I came across the story of Karl and Bertha Benz. Karl Benz is a German engineer who invented the first practical automobile.

After 3 prototypes, he still didn't think it was perfect. How could he make it perfect if he didn't test it though?

His wife Bertha Benz is regarded as the first driver to make a long distance trip on an automobile. She took the "horseless carriage" without Karl knowing and not only tested and found ways to "perfect" it, she also kind of marketed the invention. You can research on the rest of the story but I assure you, it ends with Mercedes Benz. I am sure you've heard of these German machines.

From this story, I learned that there is no perfect. You can only solve a problem you know. As long as you have tried to solve what you know, leave the "what you do not know" to the next stage. Grade your work according to the level/step you are at currently. Focus on taking action and being "close enough to perfect".



Let us go back to my earlier question. What's the cut-off for perfect? Close enough. That's the answer.

As you try to navigate your work and career life, take small steps and be close enough to perfect at each of these steps. What are you doing to be "close enough" today?


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