What’s Your Biggest Weakness?
December 23, 2009 1 Comment
If you’ve followed many SQL Server blogs over the past few years, you’ve undoubtedly noticed a trend of “tagging” other bloggers. It usually starts with one person asking and answering a simple question. Typically, the question isn’t technical; it’s more of a “human interest” story. For example “How did you get your start in IT?” or “The best thing I learned at a PASS Summit” Something like that.
The person that starts it the question “tags” three other bloggers to answer the same question. The tagged bloggers answer the question in a post to their blog site and then tag three more. It continues from there, growing virally. It’s these kinds of blogs that tend to make the community more personable, more real.
The online version of freeze tag
Over the years, I’ve been tagged a number of times by friends and colleagues. I try to respond and keep the thread going but I must admit that I’ve probably missed as many as I’ve made. Usually that’s not intentional; I just run out of time. By the time I get around to responding, the question and answer craze has run its course.
I’ll confess, however, that occasionally I do skip questions that I don’t find entertaining or worthwhile. I almost did that with this question. Jeremiah Peschka (blog, twitter) tagged me with a question that David Stein started.
Why on earth would I want to share with potential clients, and everyone else for that matter, what I consider to be my biggest weakness? And not only to share it once, but to have it recorded for posterity. I don’t want to do that! Or rather, I didn’t want to do that.
Considering it from every angle
Then I began pondering the question. What would I say if I were to answer it? Would I answer it with the standard interview response to that question? Or delve deeper into some true self-analysis? What are the implications of each?
That’s when it really hit me. I was spinning my wheels looking for the perfect answer, one that was a good from every angle, one that was funny yet insightful, sincere yet not too revealing.
Have you figured it out yet, my biggest weakness?
I’m a perfectionist. I like and strive for perfection in everything I do. I set I very high bar for myself and expect not only to meet it but to exceed it. If I don’t live up to that expectation, I feel that I’ve fallen short somehow. I’m very competitive, but mostly with myself. I know I can bat 1.000 in softball. There’s no reason why I cannot get a turkey every time I bowl (even though that’s only once every five years).
Is that really a weakness, though? It can be. If you are never satisfied with your performance that can lead to a very unhealthy perspective on life.
It can also lead to “paralysis by analysis“, the phenomena where a decision cannot be reached because there is always more information to be sifted through or considered.
Fortunately, I’m not naturally affected by either of those by-products of perfectionism. I tend to have a pretty healthy and balanced view of life, I think. And I’m much more of an action person than one who tends to over analyze.
Always room for improvement
Where perfectionism rears its ugly head in my day to day life is that there is always room for improvement, at least in my mind.
Let me give you a real example. I’ve written several books and authored articles for magazines and other publications. When I first started writing, I spent a consider amount of time writing, rewriting, revising, and fine-tuning each and every paragraph of each of each and every page of the article or chapter. Was the final product better than the first draft? Yeah, probably so. But was it really noticeably better, especially considering the extra effort required? Probably not. At least not to anyone except me. That was not a good use of my time.
Dealing with perfectionism in an imperfect world
Over the years, I’ve recognized my tendencies toward perfectionism and have slowly discovered habits that help to turn that tendency into a positive attribute.
Setting realistic goals
As many others have stated in various ways, it’s important to begin with the end in mind. That is, know where you are starting from and where you intend to go. The former is not a problem for the perfectionist; we can easily identify our starting point. But the latter can be an issue. If your expectations are not realistic or are needlessly over ambitious, that can be a problem. It can be counter productive to set goals that are too far fetched. We’ll either spend too much time trying to achieve the unachievable or get frustrated trying.
Moving the ball down the field
A corollary to “Setting realistic goals” is to keep in mind that often times it’s best to set incremental goals along the way. Sure we all want to achieve great results, but sometimes, getting from A to Z in one leap is too much to ask. It’s better to take two or three steps in the right direction and then once that’s done, set new goals to go a little further. Eventually we’ll get to our destination.
When I set out to accomplish an activity or task, I employ “time boxing”. Time boxing is the technique where you allot yourself a reasonable, yet finite, amount of time to work on the given task. During the allotted time you work as diligently as you can and do the best job you can to accomplish the task. At the end of the the scheduled time, you’re done. Period. No more. Then you move on to the next activity.
Continuing with the writing example, I may give myself a total of eight hours to write an article. I may break this up in to four 2-hour blocks. At the end of the fourth 2-hour session, it’s done. Time to turn it in.
Are there exceptions? Sure. But at least they are conscious choices rather than a continual slide toward never finishing the article.
Implicit in all of this is the concept of setting priorities. We must take a balanced approach and consider what is not getting done because we are spending what may be considered an excessive amount of time on one particular task or project. It’s good to weigh priorities at the task level (what I’m working on right now) as well as at the overall project level (what projects am I engaged in currently) and even the meta-project level (all of the projects I’ve worked on compared to the direction I want to go).
Now, to be clear. I’m not advocating putting in a sub-par effort or recommending a “well it’s good enough” attitude. That’s a completely different issue. What I am recommending is that you keep in mind the Law of Diminishing Returns when it comes to your work.
I was a bit late getting my answer to this post out (not because I kept rewriting it, though) so I’m not going to tag anyone else as a follow on. But I’d encourage you to give this question some thought. If you decide to blog about it, leave me a link to it in the comments section below.
And if you have some thoughts on how to better manage your time, I’d love to hear that too.