Sunday, February 3, 2013

Perfection is the Enemy of the Good


My little chair upholstery project has me thinking about perfection.  It took me two years to tackle the chair, even though I had all the old fabric off and  new fabric within a week of hauling my chair home.  I was afraid of messing it up, of  not being able to do a perfect job.  I'm happy with how my chair turned out, but perfect it is not.  It's good - better by far than it was and really the best I could do.  But what is this obsession we have with perfection?  Why are we often not happy with our best effort? 

There's a world of difference between not caring enough to give things our best shot and just driving ourselves nuts because we fall short of perfection.   When the kids were little, we had a couple of sayings posted on the fridge:
"Be the matter great or small, do it well or not at all".

and the great Martin Luther King quote;
 " If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well".   It was important to me that the kids  learned pride in a job well done, even if that job was just taking out the trash.

Neither of these quotations talk about being perfect, just about doing our best.  Most of us want to do a good job of whatever it is we're doing, but never feeling that what we've done is good enough is a burden we don't need to bear.  I just read Julia Cameron's  The Artist's Way and her take on perfectionism struck home.  She talks about perfectionism as an obsessive loop that causes us to get stuck .  "Perfectionism is not a quest for the best.  It is the pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us nothing be do will ever be good enough- that we should try again.  No, we should not".

I'm comfortable with less-than-perfect in many things:  I like the shabby look of worn and used stuff, like the grungy art look and I'm pretty sure my house has never been in perfect order.  But there are times when I'm so caught up in trying to make sure everything is perfect that I can drive myself and everyone around me crazy .  This obsession with perfection not only sets us up for disappointment, but also sucks the joy from our life.  Constantly feeling that we're not good enough is hard on ourselves and everyone around us.

It's all about balance - caring enough to do our best and be our best and then being satisfied that our best is enough.  It means we'll do things over that didn't turn out right the first time, that we don't settle for mediocre, but we won't make ourselves sick because our best falls short of perfection in everything.  We celebrate the rare moment when we get close, but are okay that those moments are not our norm .

And a journal page (clearly not perfect) to help me remember that perfection is indeed the enemy of the good:

(And in some Karmic communication, I can't delete all the white space at the end of this post about perfection).   Take a deep breath and embrace imperfection!

1 comment:

  1. Ack! I just lost my entire comment!

    Suffice it to say, I agree that chasing perfection is a waste of time. We should prioritize what we most care about, and strive for our "best" in those areas, knowing that "good" or good enough can be great - and is fully appropriate in other areas of life.

    Wonderful post!


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