Paralysis of Perfection

I often hear Penn State students talking about the pressure to achieve perfection in all they do. On the surface, that sounds like such a noble pursuit. But, in fact, such thinking often stifles the creativity and innovation so necessary for individuals and a society to grow and achieve progress. The lock-step track to education, internship, career, student activities and life can indeed be paralyzing. When do students have time to innovate or, better yet, run with their ideas to form a new company?

Enter the student entrepreneur. This student dares to pursue opportunity and create something from nothing. This is when things get interesting and sometimes off the well-worn track, because this is when people cut their own tracks and transformation happens. Change occurs in students as they pursue their ideas for growth, meet with people across our community and yes, wrestle with gut-wrenching life questions, such as: Should I change my major to pursue what I love, even though it means another semester or year?

All I can tell you is: Don’t let the paralysis of perfection stall you from acting on life’s opportunities. What a waste that would be.
The endless pursuit of achieving perfection brings us into the world of diminishing returns where we are taxed even more for fewer results. Why not start something new — somehow, somewhere without worrying about the final outcome? Then grow it to excellent and move on to more. I think we as a society are doing students a disservice by enforcing a strict life path and asking for perfection. By doing so, creativity, play, passion, purpose and innovation suffers.

Walking off the well-worn track has proven to be quite an adventure for me and for many of my colleagues. There have been times when work was so much fun I didn’t notice it was work—it was more like play. And there have been times when things looked pretty bleak and the chips were down. I wouldn’t trade these experiences, the high points nor the low points.  They have shaped me and serve as the fuel to strike out again to act upon opportunity — hopefully better prepared.

More often than not, good things come from novel disciplined action that is focused on making our world a better place. I would encourage you to journey onward to the lands that call you and the ways that you see fit. Don’t be afraid of disruption. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and fail — they can be great teachers. So what if it’s not perfect? At least you are moving forward and are not idled by the impossible, stifling ideal of perfection. Enjoy Penn State GE-Week and all it has to offer.

Dr. Gagnon is the Harbaugh Entrepreneurship Scholar & Entrepreneurship Coordinator College of Agricultural Sciences.

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