Perfectionism is All Lies and Oversimplifications, Part One Million

This tweet has it all, from a perfectionist standpoint:

It:

  • Sets an impossibly high standard for success. (You should be as successful as Apple’s Steve Jobs, etc.)
  • Is shaming. (“What’s your excuse?”)
  • Makes specious comparisons. (Between you and these ultra-successful outliers, most of whom also achieved their success decades ago, in a very different society and economy.)
  • Offers zero guidance on how to actually achieve the level of super success it’s promoting.

AND IT’S WRONG. Perfectionist narratives, including the “rags to riches” and “bootstrap” ones so beloved by the business press and conservatives in general, are inevitably oversimplified and dramatic. As you can read in Historic.ly’s brilliant takedown of the tweet, the founders of the companies mentioned were overwhelmingly rich and well-connected. And, with one exception, Mattel’s Ruth Handler, they were/are all white men, so the tweet’s implied claim that, “anyone can do this” is, on its face, bogus.

The perfectionist tweet also omits ethics. Balzac famously said, “Behind every great fortune there is a crime,” but the tweet ignores, for instance, Jeff Bezos’s (Amazon’s) rapacious monopolism, Steve Jobs’s (Apple’s) massive tax evasions, and Handler’s modeling of the first Barbie dolls after a soft-porny Nazi doll. (Not to mention, her later fraud conviction.)

And as for “Uncle Walt” Disney, let’s just say that, despite his carefully cultivated public image, he was the equal of any of his film villains when dealing with his employees:

And of course the perfectionist tweet omits any mention of the hundreds (or thousands?) of equally smart, talented, and dedicated entrepreneurs who, through some combination of bad luck, societal bias / discrimination, and an unwillingness to play dirty (or as dirty), fell short of the examples’ stratospheric success.

The Historic.ly thread doesn’t just demythologize the founders mentioned in the original tweet, it goes on to do the same for dozens of other celebrated entrepreneurs, listing the advantages they started out with and the morally-dubious actions that gave them a boost. (French fashion designer Coco Chanel was a probable Nazi collaborator!)

So, this is reminder one million to never fall for any kind of perfectionist narrative.

None of this, by the way, is to say you shouldn’t shoot for the moon in your own business, creative, activist, or other endeavors. You absolutely should, if that’s your thing! But don’t fall for the myths of easy success: instead study actual cases relevant to your time, field, and situation. Also, do your planning, and find your mentors.

And please, when you make it, be honest about what it took.

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