The Point of Minimal Return: the Fatal Flaw of Perfectionism

So I just started a new internship with a new company today and one of the concepts that my supervisor brought up is called The Point of Minimal Return. She started off by telling us about one of the many flaws that many of us have (herself included): we are perfectionists. It’s a fatal flaw that doesn’t always work out (hence the flaw bit, right?) and it takes a special skill to maintain the balance between making someone as perfect as it can be and stepping back to say, “Okay, it’s time for me to let go now.” And this is something that I’ve struggled with a lot.

I’m a perfectionist to tell you the truth. I have a very picky taste, especially when it comes to blog aesthetics, so it’s not surprising that people sometimes do call me neurotic. With anything I work on, it has to be just right. Again, this is a huge issue for me when it comes to my blogs – the font has to be just right, the color palette, the images, the links, even the colors of the visited links have to fit into my overall color palette. Yes, you can all say it: I’m neurotic and slightly crazy.

But at one point, we have to realize that we are fast approaching the point of minimal return. Wait a second – what’s that?!

The Point of Minimal Return (or diminishing return) is a concept in economics and in its basic terms, it dictates that when you increase the productivity of a single input factor (while the other factors stay constant), the output will actually begin to decrease marginally. Basically, if the hypothetical equation to this concept was: 2A + 3B + 4C = 5D (all arbitrary values, of course) and we were to increase the value of A to perhaps 4 in small increments, we might approach a point where the value of D might actually begin to decrease. Basically, with adding more A, at some point we would begin to become counterproductive.

Ok, enough of the math. Let me translate that into writing blog posts.

If I were to spend 45 minutes – 1hr on writing a post and then another 30 minutes on editing it and making it perfect content-wise, that’s good. But I were to start nitpicking at every detail and the editing time goes up to 45 minutes first, then it takes up an hour, maybe even hour and a half, I will slowly start approaching the point of minimal return. At this point, I’ve increased the time I’ve spent editing (read: perfecting) the post to the point where my result of actually publishing the post and therefore attract new readers to my blog has actually diminished.

Why? Well, for the simple reason that I never actually posted the article in the first place! I was so focused on making it as perfect as it could be that it was never really perfect enough for me to publish it.

And we all have moments like this, don’t we? Especially when we’re about to start a brand-new project of any sort, we want it to be as perfect as it can be so we don’t get criticized as heavily as we could be. We want to aim for that feeling of praise with the least amount of people trying to point out our mistakes. The problem is that we might get so focused on perfectionism that we won’t actually increase our productivity; we’ll end up decreasing it.

This is a very real issue for me as a writer; in creative fiction, one of the biggest pieces of advice we’ll ever get is that we must keep writing. Our first drafts will always suck and there’s no point in us even arguing about this statement. They’ll suck, we have to be okay with it, and we have to just get the damn story written. I literally struggle with this because I can write an entire chapter and I won’t be able to move on because I go back and find an issue with a scene, or a piece of dialogue, or the pacing. By the time I realize what’s going on, it’s three weeks later and I’m only still one chapter in.

My solution? Take a deep breath, step, back, and make that mistake. It’s one of those solutions that make you say, “K, very easy to say but hard to do” but you’re absolutely right! But believe me, it’s what you need.

Take a deep breath.

Step back.

Make the mistake.

Hit publish.

Regression to the Mean: a Life Lesson from Statistics

In Statistics, there’s an interesting concept called ‘Regression to the Mean’.

Let me explain: let’s say that we have a group of students who are asked to take two tests on two successive days. Naturally, there will be a proportion of students who will score high and a proportion who will score low on the first test. Now, when you administer the second test, you may find that the group of students who scored high on the first test may just end up scoring low on the second test and vice versa.

When all the events are put together, the results of each event will be so varied in each extreme that the overall result will be somewhere near the mean – the middle.

In its simplest form, this concept means that everything eventually evens out; periods of highs will be followed by periods of lows such that overall, everything will balance out.

The reason this particular concept struck me as really interesting because it applies very well to real life.

In our lives, we will inevitably face moments where we think, “Holy shit, I can’t believe I had so many amazing things happen to me all at once!” And we will definitely have moments where we just want to crawl in our beds and form a warm cocoon with the comfiest blankets we own because life just isn’t working out that well for us.

But it’s important to remember during both those times that eventually, everything will balance out again. Unfortunately, we probably may never have a life where we constantly only experience the best things and as unfortunate as that is, we learn two things because of this: firstly, enjoy the good things while they last and secondly, don’t get so caught up in the good things that you think you’re invincible all of a sudden – it’s precisely then that life will turn back on us and pleasantly kick our collective butts.

The upside of everything is that this concept does flicker a small hope in us when the going gets rough and that is that while you may be having a rough time right now, it will not last. We are not destined to be hit with low periods of succession for the rest of our lives. At one point or another, things will start picking up once again and we will find our own brand of happiness.

This is a phenomenon that is quite close to my heart. It is one of the only things that makes me feel better right now about my life. Frankly put, I’m kind of very miserable right now. I’m in a city where I’m not close to a lot of my friends and I find myself having to make a lot of adjustments while I’m here. And I’m kind of stuck here for a while.

So it makes me feel better that while things aren’t turning out to be in my favor right this instant, eventually they will. When we look back at our lives once we’re old and gray and perhaps just a tad bit wiser, we will recognize that yes, everything did balance out in the end.

Because that’s life.

And if nothing else, life is all about balance.

New Life, New Game

In just about 2.5 weeks, I’m set to graduate from university. The big date? June 11, 2014.

That day marks the end of my five year stint at Queen’s and the official beginning of my post-grad life.

When I left school a month ago and moved back home, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. And I’m still not quite sure. I began university majoring in the Sciences, believing that I’d become a doctor or at least pursue grad school but the closer it came to making that decision, the more I balked. Due to a lot of different reasons, my heart just doesn’t lie in that area anymore. At least not currently.

So that left me with what I want to do. Here I am, a twenty-something Biology and English grad, fresh out of school and ready for the real world – kind of.. Having spent so much of my time believing that I would just continue on in a science-related career, I’m now faced with a world full of endless possibilities.

The more I peruse the internet to find other post-grad stories, the more I realize that there are literally thousands of things I can do. Now, I’ve always been a writer and blogger at heart so I thought, why not document this journey? There are a ton of adjustments I’m going to have to make now that I was at home again so why don’t I do one of the things I do best: write.

With that said, welcome to The Post-Grad Game, a blog on all the different aspects of the post-grad life.

Everything from my random musings about school, work, and life in general to hopefully documenting the occasional chats with post-grads on what they’re doing with their lives. My hope is to provide you, my dear readers, with an idea of what else is out there if you also find yourself stuck in this weird limbo between school and real life.

So let’s hop on this boat ride together and help each other out, yeah?