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How to navigate mistakes and imperfection in the new year

December 20, 2019, 7:00 aM

It’s no surprise that accounting professionals tend to be exacting about their work. Balancing the books leaves no room for error, and accuracy is an essential component in a firm’s value. It’s also no surprise that people who spend their careers getting things just right apply that same logic to themselves. To put it another way, perfectionism is a common condition among accounting professionals. If you’re not a perfectionist, you probably work alongside a few.

To the perfectionists out there, don’t worry. I’m not about to tell you to stop striving to do your best work, but I do want to warn you about the dangers of applying perfectionism too strictly. When you are unrelentingly hard on yourself, when you can’t forgive even the slightest mistake, when you view every failure as the end of the world, you keep yourself from growing, which is what a healthier perfectionism should be about in the first place.

How perfect is too perfect?

Unlike other common workplace diagnoses — burnout, toxicity, discrimination and the like — perfectionism is not necessarily something to be banished from the modern office entirely. As a comprehensive overview of research from the Harvard Business Review notes, perfectionism has pros and cons. “Taken as a whole, our results indicate that perfectionism is likely not constrictive at work … Yet, critically, we found no link between perfectionism and performance. This, coupled with the strong effects of perfectionism on burnout and mental well-being, suggests perfectionism has an overarching detrimental effect for employees and organizations,” the study states.

Mistakes will be made

Think about how many discrete operations you perform in a day. I’m talking about every email you send, every piece of data you put in accounting software, everything. How many actions do you think that is? Dozens? Hundreds? Maybe even thousands? When you are doing that many actions, no matter what they are, you will err from time to time. Even the best server in the world has spilled champagne on somebody’s lap — when you wait on thousands of tables in a year, that’s just going to be how it goes. The same is true in our world, though we’re all too often loathe to admit it.

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