Aiming for perfection looks good on paper, but in practice, it can stand in the way of doing good work and the feeling that we’re enough.
I have a touch of a perfection streak. Not always, but often enough to get in the way some times. When I was a carpenter, I became acutely aware of the dynamic between my desire to have my work be spot on and my clients’ desires for efficient, swift work. Most people never actually look at the trim in a house and don’t care if the trim behind the toilet was crafted with the care and precision of a Renaissance sculptor. They want it done quickly, without breaking their bank, so they can put their lives back in order.
I had been trying to do the very best I could. To have each thing I created serve as representation of who I hoped I might be. The work, and I, was tedious and tense. It wasn’t working out well for me. Instead of, “Is this the best I am capable of?,” I had to start asking myself some new questions:
Is this good enough?
At first glance this might appear to be a perspective of apathy or indifference, and perhaps if left at that face value, it might be.
But when I let it open and evolve further, things really shifted:
Is it good? Is that enough?
Here I found a different approach from making something perfect — an approach with more freedom and flow in it. Instead of getting hung up on making things exactly right, or having each task I attempt needing to be some sort of representation of my full potential, I started asking myself: Is this good? Does it do the job? Does it meet the needs and accomplish what I set out to do?
Affirmative answers led me to deeper questions and a bigger can of worms:
Is that enough? Can I let that be enough for me?
Is it enough for me to good work? Can I be satisfied with learning as I go, with being a work in progress? Am I willing to stop hiding from sharing my gifts, talents, and skills with the world inside a scared and selfish quixotic quest for perfection?
When I let myself marinate in these questions, and ponder the recent reemergence of old habit as I learn and try new things, it becomes clear that the old search for perfection was and is a real drag —pulling down energy, mood, productivity, and more. It’s a tense and tedious swindle, a distraction. The search for perfection is never about the thing I’m working on, it’s a misguided attempt to feel better about myself.
But if instead, I let it be enough…..so much changes, so much opens up. If instead, I embrace the learning, the works in progress (including myself), and the process itself, I find I get considerably more done, with less tension, and more enjoyment.
Perfection isn’t the golden god we think we seek; it is just a hollow shell with a shiny coat of soon-to-be peeling paint. If perfection is what we’re after, it — and we — will never be perfect enough.
When push comes to shove, we get to decide what is good and what is enough. More importantly still, we each get to decide when we are enough to be satisfied with our efforts and not let our own baggage get in the way of creating and making a contribution.
The world is patiently yearning for each of our own unique contributions.
The question that remains is: Can we get out of our own way to do and share our own good work?