Striving for “perfection”


When I was in my childhood years, I was a very care-free person. I loved playing and fooling around. I would never do my homework, in fact what I would do is simply just pass up my notebook for marking without having even attempted on the question. And no, it wasn’t because I didn’t understand the question or that I didn’t know how to do it. I never did it because I was just plain and simple lazy. My notebooks would often come back with either a “SEE ME!” stamp on the corner of the page or a big red Question Mark.  I gotta admit I did feel bad sometimes about having to shamefully explain myself over the question mark. What was even more shameful was the teacher having to make an appointment with Mum to discuss my performance.

In my mid teenage years, this came to a resounding stop with Ms. Chew. She taught me Math tuition and I still remember clearly passing up to her my first homework. Because the lessons were two times a week Tuesdays and Fridays, you would pass up your assigned homework on Friday and get it back on Tuesday. I’ll never forget my 2nd time at her class. She didn’t want me to come anymore. She was appalled by my lack of discipline and concentration that I had given for that homework assignment.  What would follow a painful-fire-refining process, by the time I left high school, I became engrossed in being committed in everything I did, and this bore results as I graduated from university with flying colours. 

I continued applying my zeal for perfection at the workplace, beginning at Big Blue Corp. However quickly I realized that the rules had change. Perfection was no longer getting a 100% on your math assignment, it was no longer getting a “Excellent” remark on your term paper.  The stakes were much higher now, and much to my painful discovery, more subjective.

I struggled early on in my career to strive for perfection. I realized how well you did in your work was no longer how well you did in your work, rather it was how well you lived up to people’s expectations. The game had changed, while your efforts were counted for and measured, the teacher was no longer objective in his or her assessment. If you met all your goals and objectives, you were deemed as competent or average. To get an “Excellent” on your report card, you needed to do a whole lot of things,  one of which included ass-kissing which I strongly opposed to from the beginning of my career. True, I may have not been the supervisor’s pet, but I still had my integrity in-check and that’s all that mattered (still does!) to me.

It took me a long time, possibly 8-10 months into my career for me to fully understand that I can’t strive for perfection at my workplace. And I’m not saying this to demotivate myself from giving a 100% effort or making up excuses to cut myself some slack. (Considering my background where I was considered an “anal” person during my university days for being strict and unfortunately dominant during project teams). Believe you me, I’ve tried to aim for perfection at the workplace, and I’ve found it hard to do so for a couple of reasons, namely because everyone has his or her own standards of perfection, and that standard varies from mood to mood, season to season. 

I’ve found myself feeling worse as I tried my very best to live up and conform to people’s set expectations, and at the end of the day, I found that the loser in this whole picture is me. Often time, my dedication and hard work goes unnoticed (and no I’m not tried to patronize myself here), my willingness to push and commit to deadlines are often treated as a norm. 

So what? This is your job, you were supposed to deliver it, I don’t care if you stayed up all night working on it, you were supposed to deliver it and if you did, well what do you expect from me? A standing ovation?

Yes, sadly that’s how some supervisors and management think. I hate the fact that sometimes the corporation can be so inhuman as to even fail to recognize the simple efforts that some of us lower employees do.

To be outstanding, you need to go above and beyond! 

Well maybe for some who are obviously more smarter than I am, wayy more hardworking than I am, and wayy more thick-skinned than I am when it comes to ass-kissing, maybe these bunch of guys can go to the top and they often do! These are the guys who are recognized for their hard work and political savyness . While I applaud them and sometimes am envious of them, I often think…. “I work to live, not live to work”.

Honestly, I sometimes think that the cost of striving for perfection, especially in the working world, it isn’t worth so much.

I love the advise a senior manager once gave to us new hires at my new job.

“Don’t try to be a hero and be outstanding; learn the basics first, be comfortable and just concentrate on doing your work now, don’t worry about being the best of the best; there will come a time for you to be outstanding, and when it comes, make full use of it”. 

Now that’s smart practical advise coming from a senior manager who genuinely cares for you! 


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  • Where I come from, if you meet your work targets, you get to keep your job. Took me a while to appreciate that there is perfection at the workplace. Its just not your version. Perfection is what your immediate supervisor says it is.

  • There is no such thing as perfection in my Advisor’s eyes. Whatever we (her grad students) do, there are always ways to do it better, and quicker.

    I guess I am being trained, in a way, to be very critical of my work and performance. I tend to stretch myself beyond what others call the normal limit, sometimes my boyfriend thinks my Advisor owns my life.




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