Jacob Villa of School Authority: “Understand that achieving perfection is a process”

Understand that achieving perfection is a process. As mentioned before, I believe that perfection is a process. An artist who creates his/her magnum opus does so only after going over several abandoned projects and rejected drafts. It is virtually impossible for an artist to simply come up with a “perfect” work of art with a […]

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Understand that achieving perfection is a process. As mentioned before, I believe that perfection is a process. An artist who creates his/her magnum opus does so only after going over several abandoned projects and rejected drafts. It is virtually impossible for an artist to simply come up with a “perfect” work of art with a single try and without making any mistakes. Most perfectionists, however, believe that once you commit a mistake, perfection is already beyond your reach and that you have already failed in your goal of perfection.

Many successful people are perfectionists. At the same time, they have the ability to say “Done is Better Than Perfect” and just complete and wrap up a project. What is the best way to overcome the stalling and procrastination that perfectionism causes? How does one overcome the fear of potential critique or the fear of not being successful? In this interview series, called “How To Get Past Your Perfectionism And ‘Just Do It’, we are interviewing successful leaders who can share stories and lessons from their experience about “how to overcome the hesitation caused by perfectionism.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacob Villa.

Jacob Villa is the Co-Founder and Marketing Director of School Authority, a website dedicated to matching students with their ideal college or university in the United States based on factors such as career aspirations, lifestyle choices, and other personal preferences.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My pleasure to do this interview! I’m somewhat excited to talk about this topic as this is something which I feel is very relevant to me, especially in terms of my work ethic.

I guess you can say I had a pretty normal life growing up in Idaho. I was not born into an ultra-rich family, so even at an early age, I already knew the value of hard work and ambition. This particular view I had in life led me to exploring entrepreneurship which, in turn, got me into several other businesses ventures and projects. Before I started with School Authority, I was also working on those other projects wherein I mostly did sales and marketing. With my more recent projects, however, I have decided to take a more active role either as a co-founder or executive officer.

Even back then, I already had this problem about being too hard on myself. I’m the type of person who loves looking at rising graphs and increasing numbers. I always get a “high” on hitting goals and milestones. Hence, I really feel bad when I don’t meet my own expectations.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The opposite of progress is not failure but stagnation.” I can no longer recall where I first heard that from or who the original author of the quote was. It might have been a rewording or iteration of a popular quote or phrase. But the main point of the quote was that, even failure can be considered as a form of progress. These two concepts, failure and progress, are not mutually exclusive of each other.

At first, this sounds counterintuitive. But when you dig deeper into it, the quote would start to make sense. When you fail, you often learn something new which you could later on take advantage of in making another attempt at that thing you just failed at. Progress is sometimes spurred by failure. And it is stagnation, or the refusal to make any move because of the fear of failure, that is the true antithesis of progress.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I’ve always liked “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Aside from the novel’s beautiful prose, I really found the backstory of the fictional main character, a self-made millionaire, as really inspiring. Moreover, the bitter ending of the story also really resonated with me and emphasized the message that life often never exactly pans out as you would want it.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1. Vision: If you don’t have a vision of where you want to be, you are headed towards nowhere. I set both long-term and short-term targets for myself so that I will always have the end goal in sight. I find it important to always know where and how fast I am going. When I was still starting out with some of my business ventures in the past, developing a vision for each project allowed me to properly evaluate whether some of them required recalibration or was better off being abandoned. Having good insight and vision is indispensable to any good business decision.

2. Creativity: As a business executive, you are bound to face a lot of problems. Most of these problems may be common and probably have existing solutions which you can easily adopt to suit your specific needs. Some of them, however, may be unique to the circumstances of your business or company. This is where creativity becomes important as unique problems often require the formulation of novel solutions. For instance, during the global pandemic, a lot of businesses had to face the problem of reduced market consumption. However, there were some businesses that were hit harder than the others such as those within the food service industry like restaurants. Some of these restaurants were creative enough to adopt a food delivery system even if they don’t normally maintain one during ordinary times. I believe that creativity was an important factor that determined why some restaurant businesses survived during the pandemic and why others did not.

3. Grit: This is perhaps the most important character trait for me. Grit is more than persistence. It is perseverance combined with fervent passion to achieve a specific goal. In all my business projects and personal endeavors, I make sure that my temporary setbacks do not become permanent failures. I do this by going back to the drawing board and evaluating where I went wrong on a particular problem or issue. But every time I do, I do so with a renewed focus and sense of purpose. In other words, I do not just try again, I try harder and better.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s begin with a definition of terms so that each of us and our readers are on the same page. What exactly is a perfectionist? Can you explain?

A perfectionist is someone who values perfection above anything else. But what is “perfection” in the first place? For me, perfection is absolute adherence to a set standard or rules in a given task or activity. These standards or rules may be officially set by an institution or unofficially by society but they may also be self-imposed. Hence, a perfectionist is someone who is willing to sacrifice everything just to absolutely comply or meet these standards.

A good analogy that I have for this is the “paper clip” problem in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The problem is based on the hypothetical scenario that an unregulated and super-intelligent AI, developed with the sole task of efficiently producing paper clips, would go to extreme lengths in achieving this goal even if it would entail, for instance, the enslavement of humanity to help with its production goal. A perfectionist is somewhat the same. By attempting to always be perfect, a perfectionist sacrifices everything for the sake of perfection and loses sight of what is actually important.

The premise of this interview series is making the assumption that being a perfectionist is not a positive thing. But presumably, seeking perfection can’t be entirely bad. What are the positive aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

Being a perfectionist requires exceptionalism. You often go out of your way to ensure that everything is up to par if not exceed it. A perfectionist attitude towards work would almost result in a high quality output.

This is beneficial if the type of task or work necessitates such precision and exactness. For example, you will almost always want your doctor or surgeon to be a perfectionist. The task of saving lives obviously requires nothing less than perfection as the consequences of failure is death.

What are the negative aspects of being a perfectionist? Can you give a story or example to explain what you mean?

Past a certain point, perfectionism will start to have diminishing returns and can even negatively impact your work. Based on my experience, the more clerical and voluminous the task or activity is, the higher the chance that perfectionism will be detrimental to you.

For example, when I send out emails or invitations to potential clients and business partners, I spend a considerable amount of time proofreading my draft. I do these three to four times which means that, even for emails with just a single paragraph, it will take me more than half an hour to finally have the confidence to send it out. The worst part is finding out that despite reviewing it thoroughly, I still somehow managed to miss a typo or misplaced a comma or period on the final draft. I always get frustrated when things like these happens.

From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common reasons that cause a perfectionist to “get stuck” and not move forward? Can you explain?

Perfectionists get stuck because their idea of perfection is flawed. I believe this stems from them being unable to realize that achieving perfection is a process. Most of them believe that once you commit a mistake, perfection is already beyond their reach and they have already failed in their goal. Hence, they become paralyzed due to their strong fear of failing.

Here is the central question of our discussion. What are the five things a perfectionist needs to know to get past their perfectionism and “just do it?” Please share a story or example for each.

1. Understand that achieving perfection is a process. As mentioned before, I believe that perfection is a process. An artist who creates his/her magnum opus does so only after going over several abandoned projects and rejected drafts. It is virtually impossible for an artist to simply come up with a “perfect” work of art with a single try and without making any mistakes. Most perfectionists, however, believe that once you commit a mistake, perfection is already beyond your reach and that you have already failed in your goal of perfection.

And here is where the irony lies. Achieving perfection in any field or discipline requires a willingness to make mistakes and to learn from them in order to further perfect one’s craft. By failing to realize this, perfectionist are actually placing themselves further away from what they are actually trying to achieve.

2. You can still be excellent without being perfect. Perfectionists need to also realize that being unable to meet standards or perform tasks to perfection does not mean that they are bad or incapable. It could be that you still performed really well, only that some aspects were not done as precisely as possible.

Nevertheless, excellence short of perfection is worth commending and celebrating. Give yourself credit in being able to achieve or complete 99% out of something. There is no need to beat yourself up for the remaining 1% which you were unable to meet or comply with.

3. Accept that perfection is sometimes unachievable. There are just some goals that might just be beyond human capabilities. Most of the time, the problem here is with the goal or task itself which might have been set too high. Being frustrated about these things is useless as your performance may in fact have nothing to do with it.

For instance, a monthly sale of a million dollars when your company barely averages ten thousand a month is obviously unrealistic. Perfection in this case is unachievable and the problem may in fact lie with how the goals or target have been set or defined.

4. Realize that perfectionism is sometimes detrimental and unnecessary.

There are also situations where perfectionism is not required at all. This usually applies in purely social activities. When attending a party, for example, you just need to have fun. There is no need to be perfect with how you converse with other people or introduce yourself. Engaging in perfectionism in these aspects will make you come off as someone who is insincere and insecure.

More importantly, you should also be wary of situations where perfectionism may become detrimental for you. This happens when your perfectionist tendencies start to hinder your work or make you more inefficient. In my case, I had to accept the fact that achieving inbox zero meant that I had to let some minor typos occasionally escape my painstaking review of each email I send out.

5. Practice “limited perfectionism.” I personally practice what I’d like to call as “limited perfectionism.” This practice involves controlling my perfectionist tendencies and only applying them to the most basic or fundamental aspects of a task or activity. By limiting my urge to do things “perfectly,” I am able to maintain my efficiency and productivity while, at the same time, still having that peace of mind at the end of the day that I was able to do things well according to my personal standards.

For example, when I have to manage or supervise a complex task or project that has several stages or phases, I sometimes break it down to identify those portions where I have to manually handle or intervene. This prevents me from micromanaging everything which is not only inefficient, but has obvious negative effects especially when you work with a team.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I have always been a strong advocate and believer of free education. I believe that education in general is a human right and your access to it should not be determined by your financial resources. I want to live in a world where education is no longer a privilege. Every person should be allowed to study and learn anything he is passionate about without having to worry about its costs. Hence, if we could at least convince the government to provide more subsidies for college education, that would be a good step forward towards that ultimate goal.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I’m a huge science nerd so Albert Einstein is always on top of my list. I would love to ask him questions about his work on special and general relativity. Any plans for lunch though will have to be dropped considering that I was not yet even born when he passed away.

How can our readers follow you online?

For personal reasons, I have kept myself away from most of my social media accounts. But you can easily reach me through my email at jacob@schoolauthority.org. If you have some thoughts or comments on anything I’ve talked about here, I’d love to hear from them!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

I really appreciate being given the chance to talk about this. Thanks for having me!

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