The Perfect Illusion

Are you chasing after unicorns - perfect things that may not exist? Perfection is a subjective perspective. I dive into this "illusion" and how it has affected me.

Media often creates a perception of everything being "perfect". Billboards, magazines, company websites, social media and television are all flooded with images of perfection. The scary part is it applies to everything: the perfect body; the perception of natural beauty; the ideal places to live; the best vacation; the most awesome places to work; the desired brands; and the list goes on.

The art that media paints in our minds are picturesque. Who doesn't want to be exposed to such beauty to "enhance" our daily lives?

I am not sucker punching the media whether it be linear, digital or physical; I just want to use it to illustrate the illusion of perfection that is created.

Searching for a unicorn

I was disappointed when I started working at a corporate. It sounded amazing in theory but it didn't meet my expectations.

What were my expectations? Who knows! I was brainwashed by the working culture advertised by exciting start-ups and big-kids like Google, Facebook and Netflix. I don't think that these companies lie about their environments but I do think that people over the fence aren't exposed to the gnarly parts.

I was emotionally attached to a unicorn - that I couldn't find.

Every company - big and small - has its ups and downs. When I realized the unicorn may in fact not exist, it brought me back down to earth and my perspective changed. This makes for a more welcoming work environment and a happier state of mind.

Everyone is better than me

I started browsing the web before it exploded into a global obsession. The intimate web I used to know was filled with Times New Roman, Comic Sans and pages with solar flares among other horrors. It wasn't filled with perfection.

This new world is filled with achievement and perfect people. I'm really hard on myself when I see young billionaires; and read articles, author biographies and code from others online. "You should work harder so that you can get somewhere," I tell myself.

When I joined a corporate, this nightmare hit harder as it was no longer just in the online world. Perhaps everyone is just better than me?

Well, maybe - but also maybe not

I started observing the people I admire. When I started listening carefully I picked up that these people - no matter how famous or experienced - all have fears like I do. Many feel like imposters or that they are not good enough.

Some people just stick their necks out and give stuff a try. That's what I started doing.

  • I took a blogging course from John Sonmez at simpleprogrammer.com and got amazing feedback directly from him.
  • I submitted an article to A List Apart and it got accepted.
  • I was asked if I want to give an Ignite talk at an event just because I got involved in our local software development community.

These are big wins for me which my former self would never have achieved because my fear crippled me. Hell, I am still scared but I just do it anyway.

The perfect code

When you start programming, the coolest thing is to see your instructions materialize on a device of some sort. It doesn't matter how spaghetti it is. If you can interact with it and it does what you want it to do, you have a "drumroll... hit cymbals" moment.

As the years go by your taste of pasta code diminishes and you strive for the perfect solution. This can be debilitating at times.

Working on your craft is important and you should always try to write the best code you can in the moment but it shouldn't cripple you. Writing code is fun and when we get blinded by perfection, we lose some of that fun.

Programming in the real world

When you work for a company, you are paid to produce code. The business doesn't often care about how it gets done as long as it does get done. When you write code that becomes hard to maintain, it takes longer for you and the team to make adjustments. This is where you need to find that sweet spot between getting stuff done and making stuff perfect.

The corporate world exposes you to a lot of people with a lot of opinions. If you struggle with perfectionism and also try to follow what everyone says you must do, you won't deliver a thing.

Take what you can from others but allow yourself to make mistakes. When you do, you need to learn from them.

Redefining happiness

Steve Handel wrote that the problem with perfectionism is that it destroys happiness. He mentions that it can "negatively influence your work" as it can lead to procrastination and "workaholism". These are two spectrums but I've experienced them both. I'd work really hard at work but procrastinate on personal projects.

You can't just turn of your perfection switch. That's like telling someone who is angry to calm down. It just amplifies the situation because there is more focus on it.

What I propose to do is to redefine what happiness means to me so that I know what I want to work towards. Steve has some nice tips and exercises in his article for you follow.

My final thoughts

Perfection is sometimes a crippling illusion whether it be what you see, where you are, your experiences or what people tell you. Stop chasing unicorns, believing that you are worthless, and stressing yourself out because your code sucks. Realize that even the perfect picture has its flaws in the background and that what you are experiencing in life can actually be as close to perfect as it is.

Once the "illusion" is shattered, you may feel yourself being happier.