THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Not me: I've done well without the details

A long time ago, I wrote a column about dealing with war anxiety. I interviewed my family (what else is new?) and then wrote about my brother Mike's worries about life insurance.

Then a reader sent an e-mail: "Who is your source on that insurance stuff in your column?"

He called four insurance companies and then sent another e-mail to me. He told me my brother supplied bad information. So I forwarded the e-mail to my brother. And he said, "He's right. You misquoted me."

I am not a detail person. I associate details with perfectionism, and I think perfectionism is a disease that undermines everyone who has it. My brother thinks I am being extreme. So when he gave me the bad news, he didn't say it like, "You misquoted me, I'm sorry for you that you made an error." He said it like, "You misquoted me, and finally you got in trouble for not paying attention to the details. Hooray, hooray, justice has been served."

But has it?

My disdain for details started when I looked around at all the people who are disappointed with their lives. For the most part, these are people who wish they had done something that they did not do for fear of failure. In the worst cases, people have lists and lists of things they did not do because of fear of failure. Then I saw a bumper sticker that said, "What would you do if failure were not an option?"

When I went through my own list of what I would do, I decided that if I stopped worrying about failure, I'd be able to do a lot more. So I started focusing on just getting stuff done, instead of getting it done perfectly. Details fell to the wayside.

I also noticed that once I stopped worrying about doing something perfectly, I didn't have nearly as much reason for procrastination. It's easy to start something if you tell yourself that getting it done 70 percent perfect (as opposed to 100 percent) is okay. Believe it or not, in most cases, 70 percent perfect is okay for what we do.

Getting rid of perfectionism and procrastination has served me well. I have explored all sorts of ways that I can find success. I have flourished in many types of businesses because I have not put off trying. And I can jump fearlessly from project to project finding those that spark my career.

But in the process, I think I lost too much respect for details. At some level, I know these attributes are important. For example, if you can't keep track of schedules, you can't get anything in on time. And if you can't keep track of expenditures, you can't stay within budget.

A happy career path requires a balance of fearlessness and attention to detail. And thanks to a reader's attention to detail (and patience with my snippy e-mails), I am going to recalibrate myself.

Don't get me wrong; I still despise perfectionism. At the end of life, people do not wish they had been more obsessive about perfectionism. They wish they had tried more things, taken more opportunities. But I don't want to limit my opportunities by being unreliable. So here's hoping that this reader never catches me being careless again and that my brother will still let me quote him.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.