What Will It Matter 100 Years From Now?
Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it. – Salvador Dali
Last week I turned in a highly technical clinical article that had a typo: instead of writing “a smoking cessation program,” I wrote “a smoking sensation program.” The typo went undetected by my client, who then submitted the article to her boss, a CEO, who found it.
At one point in my career, I would have been BEYOND HORRIFIED, and beat myself up for this mistake for weeks. However, with age, experience and perspective, I responded instead with an “OOPs” to myself and a sincere apology to my client.
What I DIDN’T do is promise it would never happen again. … because I know that I am NOT perfect. As a medical communicator, I literally write thousands upon thousands of words each WEEK, and inevitably, even after several close edits, a typo will slip through the cracks. And while I am not happy I made the mistake, I know that it is not the end of the world nor does it reflect on my expertise or the high standards I set for myself.
Let's face it. You can’t be perfect 100% of the time. Just ask any baseball player who strikes out. Or any soccer player who misses a goal. Or any quarterback who is intercepted.
Back in 1983, my mentor from my very first public relations jobs put it into perspective when I made one of my many mistakes learning the ropes. He said to me, “What will it matter 100 years from now?” That little piece of wisdom helped steer me away from obsessing over my inevitable errors.
Now, I must admit that I am LUCKY in terms of the profession I chose. Mistakes in my field usually don’t hurt anyone. You can’t say the same for a neurosurgeon, flight controller or jet fighter pilot – where there is little room for error. But most of my mistakes aren’t life threatening.
We don’t live in a perfect world, thank goodness. Would you want to hang out with a friend who is perfect and never made a mistake? That would be BORING. Would you want to work for someone who is perfect? That would be INTIMIDATING. Would you want to be married to someone who is perfect? I think I would tear out my hair.
Being perfect is a DETRIMENT because it prevents us from making mistakes, and if we don’t make mistakes, we can’t grow. My success today is directly related to my previous mistakes because I LEARNED from them.
After decades of living on this beautiful earth, I understand the futility of trying to be a perfectionist. No one is perfect, thank goodness. Instead, we must focus on doing absolutely the best work we can and living a kind, compassionate, mindful life.
The rest will take care of itself.
Dr. Lori Baker-Schena is the founder and chief executive officer of Baker Schena Communications, a firm dedicated to “Unleashing Your Potential Through the Power of Words.” We offer motivational speaking, leadership consulting and medical writing services. Find us at www.loribakerschena.com