WEEK NINETEEN: EXCELLENCE VS PERFECTIONISM
It’s 7:30 in the evening and, from my window on US Air 1883, I’m watching a guy in a deicing cab, perched in a cold wet sky. Behind him red, yellow and white lights feign daylight for an entire airport community bent on launching people into that sky, many of them homeward bound, all escaping Philly’s winter weather.
As I watch, I become obsessed with catching a glimpse of his face. I somehow want to personalize this experience. It’s got to be uncomfortable out there, and my plane is just one of many, now at the front of a long line waiting for a spot on the deicing pad. I want to see in his eyes that this matters to him more than his comfort, that he’s oblivious to the cold, that he knows the stakes, feels responsible, and will stay on that wing until he is absolutely certain that this plane has been successfully prepared for launch. In other words, I need him to be a perfectionist.
Much has been written extolling the pursuit of excellence and warning against perfectionism, which involves a certain intolerance for mistakes. That may apply to artists, athletes, and office workers, but I’m just not sold on it as a general rule.