As I was out walking this morning, it struck me that in a sense perfection is in the eye of the beholder. For a perfectionist (or recovering perfectionist like myself) this may be difficult to grasp as perception can be embodied and we feel it in our guts when something is “off”.
And yet, perfection in most activities is surely just the limit of our current knowledge and skill or indeed cultural norms, upbringing or personal experience. There are clearly times when we benefit from feeling we have given our all but these days I wear that like a hat – for some special occasions rather than day and night.
For me the question then is rather than creating something that is perfect, can I create something that is good enough?
Donald Winnicott’s concept of the Good Enough Mother can perhaps be stretched too far at times and yet is helpful. When I find myself reading over something for the Nth time, I will at some point catch myself and ask “Is this good enough?” A “Yes” is permission to send it out into the world and to make peace with the fact that I have done so.
And yet, good enough is ultimately as subjective as perfect so comes up against similar psychological limitations. How can I know this is good enough?
In ways, I find it is about making my best effort. I’ve been using this approach for most of my adult life and the trick I find is to set deadlines. This means estimating how long I am happy to dedicate to an activity and blocking that time out in the diary and working to that. Once the time has run down, I give it one final quick polish and off it goes.
This makes the activity more about the process than the outcome. At the same time, it is essential to prioritise the types of errors that I consider unacceptable. To clearly set out the minimum standards. In essence, “good enough” is about finding a balance between effort and results, recognizing that the pursuit of perfection can sometimes be counterproductive.
Once I commit to giving my all and stick to the timing there is nothing more I can offer that day. This is really helpful for those activities where I know that it isn’t necessary or even beneficial to aim for any particular form of perfection.
So, on reflection, is this a good enough answer?
Questions in the Image:
- What is good enough?
- What mistakes are unacceptable?
- What can be left undone? Simplified?
Want to Read More Around This Topic?
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (link to Amazon.co.uk). This book emphasizes the importance of focusing on what truly matters in order to achieve meaningful results across your world. It provides actionable advice on how to eliminate distractions and prioritize tasks that align with your long-term vision.
Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – a short night’s sleep can surface thoughts of tiredness not only that day but in general. What am I tired of? What is preventing me from finding more rest?
About Tom O’Leary
My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.
The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.
And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.
That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.
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