“Perfect is the enemy of good.” - Voltaire
Have you ever avoided the gym for an entire week because you knew had to miss two days out of five? Or what about that time you nearly completed a project, thought it was great and then the next day thought it was awful, having not changed a single thing in the interim?
Both are examples of a perfectionist mindset. In the first example, perfection in execution, or more commonly the “all or nothing” cliché, stands in the way of starting a goal or making progress. The second example, perfection in result, is a testament to the fallibility of our perspective on the quality of our own creations.
Perfection, in both of these forms, is subjective. These ideals we create are meant for good to help us improve our creative work and motivate us. And yet they often do the exact opposite.
What Voltaire understood about quality (good) versus perfection is that there is a mental balancing act that needs done. We need a subjective ideal to help us envision the goal which we want to achieve; something that compels us to do our best and produce quality work. However, we also need to guard against relentless dissatisfaction when our method or result does not match this subjective ideal.
If we do not master this balancing act, then perfection becomes the enemy of good. And in its worst form perfectionism becomes paralysis. As in, “If I can’t go to the gym five days, then I won’t go at all.”
We can become so tied to a vision of subjective quality, that it becomes a hiccup in the soul, keeping us from doing things we deem essential because the ideal end is already unattainable. For those of us drowning in our own visions of perfection, shifting the focus to progress is key.
Consider this … if you do not even begin pursuing a goal because it seems unattainable, then your perfectionism is masquerading as a fear of failure. Ironically, not doing anything towards said goal often makes you feel like more of a failure than just making insufficient progress in the task. In this way, the perfectionist can never win. Damned if you do and if you don’t. If you are one of these folks, simply taking step one of a nine step task, must become its own perfection.
If you’re a person who is never happy with an end result, trapped in a cycle of self-loathing about your abilities, you also must learn to see progress as perfection. Everything achieved, in all its imperfection, is a stop on a fulfilling path.
When trying to gain a healthy perspective on your creativity and work, ask yourself: Why does this need to be ideal? Has this become solely about my satisfaction in the moment, instead of my long term goals? Am I going to miss a deadline, an opportunity, or fail to complete a task, because I refuse to embrace a “good enough” job?
Whether you’re hung up on perfection in execution or result, know that you must move forward, toward your ideal, but never forget that this ideal is subjective. It has been set by you.
You define perfection. So define it as progress.