Perfection is Overrated

Perfection is overrated. We spend our time and money chasing the perfect job, the perfect body, or the perfect meal, and in many cases wind up being paralysed by our fear of not living up to these standards. In the vast majority of we should instead be aiming for completion, to be aware that sometimes ‘good enough’ is good enough. In the words of George S. Patton, “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.”

Why Perfection Fails

Very few things in this world are flawless, yet in our minds we are always comparing ourselves against the fictitious standard of perfection, and unsurprisingly we always come up short. For whatever reason we believe that things are either 0 or 1, pass or fail, when in reality almost everything that we do falls on a continuum.

Once we understand that all things are relative, it becomes easier for us to give up judging ourselves as having failed to reach perfection, and instead make a real assessment of the quality of our efforts. The ability to judge our work on a scale makes it easier for us to make the small adjustments needed to improve the next time around.

Looking at the world in this way allows us to see that many of the great works of art and literature, discoveries in science, and athletic performances did not suddenly spring forth into the world as such, but were, in fact, the end result of a long succession of failures and mediocre successes. Do not be too harsh on yourself, survivor bias obscures the reality that for every work that has achieved the status of near-perfection, there are countless bad ideas that have gone before.

Good Enough is Good Enough

I can already hear the cries that aiming for good enough is the destroyer of ambition and a gateway to mediocrity, but I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. The virtues of ‘good enough’ are many and real.

The strongest of these undoubtedly being that the work actually gets done. This is perhaps the most important aspect of anything that we do; no one will eat your half-cooked meal, you cannot get anywhere with a half-built car, and your half-written book will not be read by anyone. In all areas of life something completed is worth more than something not.

This is not an excuse for rush-jobs and taking every available shortcut, this is a deliberate focus on both starting AND finishing the job at hand. To this end, the power of short, meaningful deadlines really lends itself to both the quality and timeliness of whatever it is you want to accomplish.

Parkinson’s Law says that work will expand to fill the time allotted to it. I am sure that you have experienced this in some way or another; that project that you had weeks to get done somehow finds itself getting done at the last minute, the leaky tap doesn’t get fixed until it becomes worse, and the list goes on. It takes the urgency of a quickly approaching deadline to stir us from our inaction and finally get it done. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to wait, make the conscious choice to get it done now. You will be surprised how easy things are to get done once you give up the idea of it needing to be perfect and attach a short deadline.

Results are What Really Matters

Nowhere is the paralysing effect of perfection felt than in the realm of weight loss. To illustrate, let’s consider the story of two friends, Suzie and Jess.

Suzie is a self-confessed perfectionist and prides herself on always making the best decisions. Jess is more relaxed, and although she cares about doing a good job she doesn’t stress over every minor detail. The two friends get together and decide to try and lose a bit of weight before summer.

Suzie dives right in and does a lot of research on different diets, their effectiveness, the science behind them, and so on. After compiling a never ending list their pro’s and con’s there is no clear winner. She cannot decide if the best diet is paleo, low-carb, slow-carb, or ketogenic. All have their advantages and disadvantages, but since there is no outright winner she finds herself stuck in no man’s land, dipping her toe in and out of multiple diets, trying to figure out the ideal macronutrient balance, the optimal eating time, and the right type of exercise.

Jess, on the other hand, does a little bit of research and comes to the conclusion that the general consensus is that sugar and processed grains tend to be the main culprits in weight gain. So she decides to remove sugar from her diet and swap out bread and pasta for vegetables and starts walking for 30 minutes every day.

At the end of the 8 weeks, the two friends get together and compare their results. Suzie is pretty much the same weight as she was 2 months ago, all she has to show is a near encyclopaedic knowledge of 17 different diets. Jess, however, has been consistently losing weight over the eight weeks with her no sugar diet but still doesn’t know what a macronutrient is.

Although it is almost certain that Jess could have gotten better results from a more detailed diet, the fact is she got more out of her good enough diet than Suzie did chasing the perfect one. And at the end of the day, results are what really matters.

Practical Implementation

To get better we must learn, and the best way to learn is by doing. But how often are we held back from doing something out of fear that it will not be perfect? It is vital to realise that nothing will ever be perfect, so we need to let go of this idea. Whatever it is you want to achieve, do not seek to be perfect but seek to do better than the time before. If you follow this approach you will be filled with the empowering sense that you are building towards something great, but remove the underlying fear of not living up to your’s (or other’s) unrealistic expectations.

Saying this is all well and good, but in the end, it is meaningless unless you are able to apply it to your own life. So here are my three recommendations on what to do to get into the good enough mindset.

  1. Acknowledge that done is better than perfect.

2. Use the power of time constraints to your advantage.

3. View your work as a step on a journey, and not as the final destination.

To bring this abstract thought back to reality, let’s look at how I applied these 3 steps to the writing of this post.

First, I acknowledged that no matter how much thought, effort, and research I put into it, there will always be a line that could have been written clearer or an example that would have illustrated the point better. However, I also recognise that if left unpublished it will be read by exactly no one and be of no value to the world.

Second, this post (like the majority of others I write) was written in three sessions over three days. The first day the entire post was outlined and drafted, the second it was heavily edited and rewritten, and the third it gets the final polish and is published. This timeline helps me to keep moving forward with my writing and avoid getting stuck on a particular post.

Finally, I view the real value of this post as a component of a larger whole (this blog), which taken as a whole provides more value than the sum of its parts. In this way, I hope that it is valuable to as many people as possible, but I am ok if it does not speak to everyone as I know that there are other posts that I write that will get through to those that got nothing out of this one.

In keeping with the spirit of this article, this post may not be perfect, but it is done.