The importance of letting go of the pursuit of perfection

Perfection paralysis: Matt Everatt discusses the importance of embracing failure rather than hiding from it, and the positive change this can have for your team.

A couple of years ago I wrote an article about how, in dentistry, the fear of failure can lead to stifling innovation. Our clinical colleagues may fear failure for reasons such as being criticised by peers or being held to account by our regulators.

During a lecture I attended, a speaker challenged the prevailing mindset in the dental profession – the fear of failure and the pursuit of perfection at all costs. Unlike many other professions that acknowledge and learn from mistakes, the dental industry often views anything short of perfection as a failure.

This obsession with perfection can lead to anxiety, depression, and a reluctance to innovate. Therefore, it is crucial for us to embrace failure, learn from it, and focus on progress rather than pursuing an unattainable ideal.

The pitfalls of perfection

Failures present valuable learning opportunities. By analysing what went wrong and understanding the reasons behind the failure, we can improve our skills and techniques.

Rather than fixating on achieving perfection, we should shift our mindset towards understanding the nuances of success and failure. Distinguishing between negligence and failure is important to ensure accountability without stifling progress.

I should make this very clear: there is a distinct difference between failure and negligence. By definition, negligence would suggest a breach of a duty of care.

The pursuit of perfection is a never-ending journey, as there will always be new challenges and innovative work from our peers to compare ourselves against.

Perfectionism has been linked to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and body image dissatisfaction. The ubiquitous impact of social media and Instagram influencers can exacerbate the sense of inadequacy among dental professionals. This constant struggle for perfection might be contributing to the high rates of mental health challenges within our profession.

Perfection paralysis

Striving for excellence is commendable, but we need to recognise that ‘good enough’ is often sufficient, as long as we are not negligent in our duties as a professional.

It’s natural for mistakes to occur, and rather than being discouraged by them, we should treat them as opportunities for growth and learning. Progress occurs through continuous improvement, not the pursuit of an elusive perfection.

Perfection paralysis is a phenomenon where the fear of not achieving perfection hinders progress and innovation. I can give you a great example of this within my own business.

We spent over five years looking for laboratory software to meet our ever-increasing demands. Our client base was growing rapidly and we needed a far better way of producing reports, tracking cases in progress, shipping cases, and producing company accounts. Each of the managers and directors had a wish list, and every time we sat down to discuss, the list would grow and we would see more reasons to not go with a certain provider.

Delaying the start made the task even bigger, and we had more data to handle, more staff to train, and more active cases to hand over to the new system. The list was huge. By fearing imperfection, businesses can waste valuable time and resources, ultimately hindering growth and development.

Practice makes progress

Rather than the well-known phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, we should embrace the idea that ‘practice makes progress’. One of my favourite authors and motivational speakers, Mel Robbins, talks a lot about this with her audiences.

Often the leap to perfection is too big and leads to a ‘perfection paralysis’ as mentioned earlier. Instead, focusing on progress encourages innovation and forward-thinking. It liberates us from the shackles of perfectionism, allowing us to explore new perspectives and ideas.

Progress is invigorating. It celebrates what is working, the improvements, and the discoveries. It’s not bound by time; it’s an ongoing journey of continuous improvement.

By shifting our focus from perfection to progress, we empower ourselves and our colleagues to embrace innovation and positive change. It’s time to break free from the chains of perfectionism in our dental labs. Embracing failure as a learning opportunity and celebrating progress will lead to a healthier dental technicians and more innovative dental laboratories.

Let us embrace the concept of ‘good enough’ while striving to improve continuously. By doing so, we will not only enhance patient care, but also prioritise the wellbeing of dental technicians and our colleagues.

Remember, progress is a journey of the present and the future, and by embracing it we can create a brighter and more fulfilling future for our profession.

This article first appeared in Laboratory. To receive a copy, sign up to Dentistry Club silver or gold.

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