I recently read the article, “Perfectionism will kill you.”
Our perfectionism is often worn like a badge of honor. It signifies our complete commitment, at times at the expense of others. Wanting to do your best job is what drives “good” perfectionism. Woody Allen quipped, “80 percent of life is just showing up.” And the other 20 percent is reserved for perfectionists.
Success often comes from attention to detail, something perfectionists know about. Just ask, and you may get more than you bargained for. The key to keeping the urge in check is to recognize that such striving can take its toll on us. As an example, consider successful modern cataract and lens implant surgery. Painless, and with the rapid return of vision so common, it becomes the thrill of victory for the surgeon, the drug of choice. Expectations are so high for both surgeon and patient that when all goes extremely well, we begin to take such surgical success for granted. We get hooked on the patients’ adoration and thrive on homemade baked goods delivered to our offices personally by grateful patients. Every patient that went to that extent of gratitude deserved a thank you note from me. I gave away most of the baklava to the techs.
Even perfectionists recognize the benefit of compassion for patients since you never know when a complication may arise. You need to remain on the patient’s side for the duration of the journey. “I’m so sorry you are going through this, and I will do whatever it takes to get you through this.” Perhaps that is what the author alluded to with the Golden Rule as it applies to health care. How would you, the perfectionist that you are, feel if you were in that patient’s shoes? How much would those words of support relieve anxiety? Call it empathy, and it matters.
The final recommendation to ponder: If you suffer negative consequences from “bad” perfectionist behavior, face the music. Just like a tough case you need to refer out from your own medical practice, don’t contain it. Give yourself a shot at an outside force for support, whether a friend, a spouse, a partner, or a professional counselor.
It takes courage by perfectionists to acknowledge that there are going to be examples of “the best is the enemy of good.” “Good enough,” in the current health care landscape of payment for desired outcomes, may be acceptable if best clinical practices are followed.
Paul Pender is an ophthalmologist and can be reached at his self-titled site, Dr. Paul Pender. He is the author of Rebuilding Trust in Healthcare: A Doctor’s Prescription for a Post-Pandemic America.