Perfection, The Enemy of Good

We were talking about ESG data collection the other day at work when I heard our head of sustainability say “don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.” It was so well timed and well received by our audience. The group was feeling deep intimidation and inadequacy for feeling behind in a complicated space. A space that no one is perfect and everyone is just trying to learn how to be good. Her comment eased the group and helped reframe the idea that you don’t have to be perfect or have all the answers to start the process. In fact, learning as you go is the best way. Having everything fully prepared and baked only usually works with muffins…

In life, we hold ourselves back because we tell ourselves the PERFECTION narrative. If we can flip the coin and reassure ourselves with the GOOD narrative, we’ll achieve perfection a heck of a lot quicker than if we focus on the mystical end state. This exhibits itself in every part of my life. I wonder if this resonates for you too:

Intellectually:

PERFECTION: I don’t want to blog about zoning and its impact on cities because I’m not an expert and haven’t studied the underlying code. Someone smarter than me will outwit me in the comment sections…I don’t want to join a twitter conversation about electric vehicle penetration because I don’t know every detail from all the manufacturers…I don’t want to combat someone’s political statement because I don’t have all the answers to the inevitable rebuttals, so I’ll keep mum...I don’t want to write about the metaverse because I haven’t engaged in Pudgy Penguins or transacted in Fortnite so my first hand experiences are limited and inadequate.

GOOD: I’m gonna put my opinion out there, use tone of voice that sits closer to curiosity than to surety and learn from others’ responses; participating over abstaining.

Physically:

PERFECTION: I don’t want to run because I won’t be able to get further than a mile without coughing up a lung…I don’t want to swim because my breaststroke is laughable and I can’t engulf air properly on my side strokes…I don’t want to exercise this morning because my energy levels are weak and it’ll be a poor showing

GOOD: I got up. I showed up. I owned the action, not the outcome.

Mentally and Spiritually:

PERFECTION: I can’t meditate, I haven’t done it in a while and my mind will wander; I’ll wait until my mind is clearheaded some other time…I can’t pray this morning, I don’t have 15 minutes of undistracted time - I’ll do it later when there’s a hole in my day…I can’t see a therapist to talk through my problems, I’ll wait until its a crisis, until then I can cope.

GOOD: Even if my mind wanders, even if its an abridged version, even if its just for a clearer mind, I still did it. I’m one day closer to feeling better and deepening my perspective.

Professionally, I hear this all the time. We can’t capture and organize the data because it’s “swiss cheese” - it’s incomplete. (If you wait for it to be complete, you’ll be waiting forever). That’s the perfection mentality and it’s the enemy of “good”…aka starting. I see it with pursuing new knowledge all the time. Perfection says “I’m not an expert in data center real estate - someone else must be so I won’t engage in learning more - I’ll never get as knowledgable about it as they are so I’ll stick to what I know.” Good rebuts with “I’m curious to know more. When I get over my head I’ll find someone who is an expert and we’ll go at it together. We’ll see what comes of it.”

Be GOOD. PERFECTION is just the summation of endless GOOD attempts.

Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash