The Problem with Perfect
Of all the things you could have written, what percentage of things have you not written because perfectionism stopped you?
Ah, perfectionism. The great delay-maker. Perfectionism can show up as procrastination (never getting started) or as infinite editing (never finishing). Either way, the underlying fear is that the work in question will not be perfect.
Sometimes, we delude ourselves into thinking we are not perfectionists by saying, “I don’t want to be perfect; I just want to be good enough,” while defining “good enough” by such high standards that we might as well be asking ourselves to be perfect.
And, the truth is that perfect does not exist. Even perfect numbers are arbitrarily called perfect. In life and art, quality is subjective. What is a perfect day, a perfect city, a perfect novel, a perfect child, or a perfect friend? I suggest that if you really ask those questions, you will find your definitions are not the same as your neighbors, and they are probably internally inconsistent as well.
Perfect is a myth.
The adage ‘practice makes perfect’ deludes us into thinking that there is some achievable status called perfection. Even Yogi Berra’s variation, “perfect practice makes perfect’ assumes that perfection is achievable. The right kind of practice yields improvement, but never gets to perfection.
If you seek perfection, you will never finish, because there is no such thing.
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
George S. Patton
If you want to do something, don’t let fear of getting it right stop you. Feel the fear and do it anyway is trite but applicable. Because the truth is, when you do something new, you will probably suck. But, if you don’t start, you will never get better. So, embrace the imperfection of your current work and dive in. See where it leads you.
Chances are you won’t get worse.
Though, I have to warn you that it might feel like you are getting worse. One of the things that often happens when you start to learn something is you learn that you are worse than you thought. It can be hard to believe, but the fact that you see your weaknesses is actually a sign that you are already better than you were. So, it is time to dive back in and improve some more. The more you know about a subject, the more you understand how much you don’t know.
Think of the amazingly awful singers who audition for American Idol who seem to genuinely believe that they are great. The only way they can believe that is to not understand music with any level of depth. And the humble singers with the beautiful voices and extreme control, they see how much they could still improve. They see the weaknesses at the edge of their range, the lack of control during certain transitions, the challenge of blending technique and emotional honesty, and other subtleties that most of the world can’t break down into their component parts.
As you learn how much you don’t know, you must not let perfectionism stop you. You must press on and send your work out into the world without achieving perfection. Otherwise, the good work you can do will never find an audience or make an impact.
The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.
You are not perfect. You never will be. But, what you are is good enough.
What are you going to do today to move the world forward?