Perfect is the Enemy of the Good (Enough)

Jeffrey Keefer

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Ever find yourself waiting endlessly for just the right time to post something, share an idea, submit an article, finish your thesis or dissertation, or even upload your thoughts for others to see?

You have probably experienced this yourself. This is the sense that no matter how much time or energy you have already spent on whatever you are preparing, it is still not ready yet. It would be best if you had a little more time to make it more right, to make it perfect.

Or perhaps it went more like it is just not entirely done. I have to put my best foot forward and do not want this to linger online forever like this. What will people think of me?!

Maybe, it has been more a sense that I just can’t do this right now. It merely is not perfect yet, so I can’t share. Give me a few more days, and then I will be there.

Yeah, that’s the one.

You know, perfect is the enemy of the good.

Sound familiar?

The irony about waiting for perfection is that this future never comes. Putting off our ideas and depriving ourselves of feedback, discussion, and the opportunity to make a difference in the world doesn’t help anybody—especially not ourselves.

Granted, you may be right, and your work may need more polishing, improving resourcing, or editing. It may not be finished enough for all people, or even for new (or current) friends or colleagues. We don’t want people to judge us for some half-baked idea.

Well, yes and no.

Perfection is an Illusion

While we may not want to rewrite what we previously shared based on a changing understanding of reality, like in Orwell’s (semi-)fictional Ministry of Truth, if we don’t get our ideas out there and take some form of action, we will only live in our minds.

That may not be half bad, except for the constant nag of not being good enough and all that it entails. However, that is for another day’s thought.

When we wait for things to be perfect before we share them, we ultimately have nothing to share at all. What good are good ideas if nobody else ever sees them?

Whether we write, design, cook, or create anything, leaving our creations unhatched and safely in our minds is no way to live.

With this said, I want to share three tips to conquer the perfectionism trap; the so-called perfect is the enemy of the good.

1. Focus on action, not Results

You know the best way to avoid the results you don’t want?

Don’t take action.

None at all. You will undoubtedly avoid poor results by not taking any action.

However, while you sit there not taking action, the world continues to move. Results will happen to you if you do not take action of your own to help move them forward.

We can either take action or have action taken to us.

Indeed, to keep the ideas or thoughts or whatever we fear to create inside means there will be an increasing opportunity that others will create it for us. Or worse yet, come up with a similar idea and run with it.

We don’t want to be the ones working alone in a corner and not moving our lives forward due to a fear of unrealized results.

True, not all our actions will lead us to the results we may want, but one sure way of never getting those results is not to act. So with this, plan and prepare, but then take action. Only through moving forward will we know if our ideas can grow. Whatever the result, we can learn more about ourselves and our opportunities by trying things out.

Take action and see what happens, and we may just take those first steps to a new life for ourselves.

2. Tame the Inner Critic.

We all have that inner critic, one that has spent years developing beliefs that others, often in our childhood, school, or early jobs, have told us about ourselves.

We may have been told we are not good enough, don’t work hard enough, or are not as smart or talented as these or those people.

True.

Most of us are not Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, or Mozart. Those names are all familiar, right? Easy to compare us to them, yet damagingly unrealistic. There is only one Gates, one Einstein, and one Mozart. We cannot be them, but we can excel in our own ways.

The inner critic loves to compare us with others, yet in reality, we are not those other people; we are ourselves. We can only ever be ourselves, celebrate ourselves, and share the efforts we can make.

That inner critic is not talking about us. Tell that to yourself, perhaps as part of a morning mantra:

I am me, and I am good enough to be me.

After all, who else can we be but ourselves? We do not need others’ approval, mostly since those others fooled us and taught our inner critic all those bad habits in the first place.

3. Evolve and Develop Ourselves

Are you worried about how people will see us or think of our ideas into action? Don’t worry; we are never entirely done. So what if we take action and it does not give us the results we want?

Do something different next time.

We are not permanent, and even if we make choices that may not be the best ones does not mean we cannot change. After all, life is all about changing, evolving into our best selves, and developing what works into the lives we want to lead.

Don’t worry if we are not perfect. Nobody is perfect. If anything, we may want to develop toward a better future we want for ourselves, though it may be best to realize we are in one place now, but that is not set in stone. This is one that is always beyond our last actions, as we are more than a sum of our efforts alone.

We can always evolve into a better us. Not a perfect us, but a better one.

Perfection is impossible, so just improve for today.

Not everything can happen at once, but we can all take one small step to begin. Just one, as that will be more than sitting in the fear that perfectionism invites us to live under.

Now What?

While we may not be perfect, it is better to take steps forward than always think about them. Facing down our inner critic and realizing that we are much more than a sum of our actions are only ideas, so take them and move into action. If we don’t take steps now, we may just live in a constant state of fear and regret, and nobody really wants that.

Only then can we face down the perfectionism and embrace that we are good enough. With that, welcome to the world, as most people out there are no better than that.

How do I know these three actions work? For one, they helped me publish this article after thinking about it for six months!

How about you? What can you do as a result of them?

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Educator. Writer. Open Knowledge Advocate. Institutional Researcher. I help people navigate their learning needs and take informed action.

New York City, NY
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