How Being A Perfectionist Taught Me The Value Of Breaking All The Rules

by Carina Sitkus

I was the kid in school who stayed up late to finish the paper that was due the next day because I couldn’t fathom the concept of asking for an extension.

Deadlines exist for a reason.

Rules are rules.

In college, this same internal monologue is what prevented me from going out on Halloween to study for a chemistry exam, and it's what made me finish all my papers weeks before their deadlines.

I’ve always believed in the power of planning and then sticking to a schedule to accomplish my goals.

Generally, this has worked out well for me.

I landed a full-time job after graduating from college in 2010, one of the worst years in the job market.

I went to a good grad school.

I find my work fulfilling and engaging.

There are some perks to having Victorian sensibilities.

That said, now that I’ve been in the working world for a couple of years and I’m about to turn 27, I’m actually learning to loosen up a little.

Go figure.

I used to be a teacher, and now I have interns.

So, I’ve had the opportunity to see what it’s like on the other side of giving deadlines and making rules.

I’ve noticed what type of people stand out to me as a manager and a mentor.

I’ve also come to realize that doing everything you’re “supposed to do” isn’t always what helps you enjoy life, or even what gets you ahead in the workplace.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned from always doing everything I’m supposed to do:

1. Deadlines and rules can be broken sometimes.

Rules exist for a purpose, but if you know what that purpose is and the rule just doesn’t make sense, it’s OK to break it.

It’s important to know the difference between rules that can be broken and ones that can’t.

Same goes for deadlines.

I hated when I’d stay up late to complete something for a class or work, and then I’d get to the meeting and no one else had done the work.

So we’d end up spending that time letting everyone else do what they should have done the night before.

Or, I’d skip lunch to get to a work meeting on time, only to realize everyone else was running late.

So, I don’t worry so much about doing those things anymore.

I sleep and I eat, and the world doesn’t end.

2. No one cares how long you work as long as you get your work done.


3. Being unproductive can be productive.

For someone who always does what she's supposed to do, it can be difficult to relax.

You’re watching Netflix, but you can hear your inner voice telling you to write.

You have 1,000 things to do, so instead of bantering with your co-workers, you continue to plug away at your work.

Now that I’m 26 and can feel 30 staring me down, I regret not skipping a few hours of studying to go to that party.

Would one grade really impact my life that much?

I’ve also seen the power in taking the time to connect with people, whether it’s switching up my schedule to help someone else with a problem, or grabbing coffee with someone at work instead of staying at my desk.

4. Funny, likable people will always get ahead of high achievers.

Be both people.

5. Sometimes skipping that party you don’t want to go to was such a good decision.

Just think about all the awkward things you’ve gone to just because you “had” to.

6. Life happens; it doesn’t get in the way.

Just over a year ago, I had to take a week off work when my mom needed unexpected heart surgery.

It forever changed the way I view work and life balance.

In the moment before she got sick, work couldn’t wait.

It was a busy time of year, and I was already working on the weekends to catch up.

After one phone call, work became the last thing on my mind.

Life doesn’t always go as planned.

7. Rule breakers are more likely to be your boss.

Following the rules is not as important as being someone who takes risks that turn out awesome.

8. Product is more important than process.

As someone who is methodical and driven by deadlines, I’ve often spent hours working on a project expecting to receive praise, but was only met with very critical feedback.

I’ve also spent 30 minutes on writing a blog post that goes viral.

Work hard, but always prioritize outcome over input.

9. Sometimes what people want and what they ask for are two different things.

In the past, I’ve cared far too much about checking all the boxes and crossing things off my to-do list.

As a manager, I’ve learned that getting back the product I asked for is great, but it’s not what stands out.

What stands out is when someone reads between the lines of what we're trying to accomplish and then comes up with creative solutions I didn’t even think of.

Also, sometimes your boss just needs to think out loud.

Don’t take everything as a directive. Focus on the bigger picture.

10. Perfectionism isn’t helpful.

OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve avoided certain classes over the fear of not getting an A.

That caused me to miss out on the type of learning that only comes from being challenged.

I’ve avoided taking on things that I couldn’t give my 110 percent.

Spreading yourself too thin isn’t healthy, but limiting the scope of your work can mean missing out on connections or learning opportunities.

Be focused, but not narrow-minded.

So yeah, I’m never going to be the girl who quits her job to backpack across Europe or call in sick to nurse a hangover.

But yes, I will come to your Halloween party.