Perfect Is Overrated


Six little girls about eight-years old, a mom with her small son, and me and my friend, Patti. We were at Painting With a Twist in South Austin. A blank, white canvas and a paper plate (a perfect substitute for a palette) with puddles of paint in vibrant colors was in front of each of us. In the front of the room, the instructor stood with a microphone to give instructions as she demonstrated each step.

Just start. With confidence she said, “Take a big scoop of dark blue paint and paint a line across the canvas.” Easy for her to say!  We all stared at the dollops of paint and the pristine white canvas and paused. It felt a bit intimidating.  Have you ever felt that way before starting a big project? There is a hurdle of inertia to clear just to begin. Sometimes we procrastinate so it’s key to just start.  Do anything to take that first step. Take a big gulp of courage, dip in the brush and boldly, as though you know what you’re doing, paint a bright blue line across the whiteness. There, now. You’re underway.

Plan ahead. We were painting a Van Gogh-like design of a beach with a “Starry Night” motif. The instructor showed us where to paint the sun and the wind but she said to plan ahead as there were dashes to be painted around the sun. If we weren’t careful, there wouldn’t be room for all the other features.  It’s the same with our work.  The successful manager is always planning ahead. What are the next steps? What factors need to be anticipated? Is the schedule designed to accommodate the unexpected?  The unexpected should be expected

Give it time. At a couple of intervals during our painting session, we paused to let the first layer of paint dry so we could paint over the top of it with another color. As we waited, the little girls grew restless and fidgety. But if we rushed and tackled the next step too soon, the colors would swirl together and the design would be lost.  Many times, we rush the next steps.  There’s much to be said for carefully pacing work and allowing time for each step to be socialized.  “Waiting for paint to dry” might include discussing your project with those from whom you need support. It might be collaborating with those involved in the next step. It might simply be giving yourself and others a break from the onslaught of work. Whatever it is, give it time so that the next step isn’t rushed.

Go with what you’ve got. As we finished our paintings, around the room we heard: “My tree is too big!” “My beach ball is lopsided!” “My leaves ran off the edge of the canvas!” Even Patti and I grimaced, “My coconuts don’t look right.” But when we stepped back and looked around the room, we were surrounded by happy smiles and brightly painted canvases.  Yes, there were some ….hmmm, irregularities, but we each had more right than wrong. And, again, there’s a parallel with our work. We tend to quickly identify the irregularities without noticing the color, design and vibrancy. We fixate on what’s wrong and miss the majority of things that are right.

Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data. Her work grows your bottom-line through enhanced decision-making, motivation and teaming. Learn more at