Perfect is the enemy of good.
This is a phrase I saw on Twitter and heard coming from Deputies own mouths during the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City and it has stuck with me in the week since convention ended.
I know from my own experience that it is very easy to set a complex project aside in order to spend time thinking about how to solve a problem. However, what I have learned in project after project is that there is a difference between taking a break to rest and come at a problem with fresh eyes and putting a project away to wait for inspiration to come and solve the problem.
In nearly all cases, the first method usually gets results while the second is a project killer.
One of my many hobbies is costuming. I make costumes with my housemate and we wear them to our local science fiction convention or dress up for our annual Halloween party. I have made some pretty complicated things over the past 10 years, and what all of the completed projects have in common is a lot of seat time in front of my work table. I might be spending that time swearing, or asking our favorite workroom question: “Am I crazy?”, but projects don’t make themselves and most particularly, problems don’t solve themselves.
It takes active, engaged, thinking to come up with solutions to why a pattern isn’t draping correctly; or how to secure wings to a corset in a way that won’t either damage the corset or limit it’s use in future projects.
Every project from costuming to web design, from writing to gardening, has many moments where the part I am working on is beyond my skill or experience. Once I am out of my comfort zone, it becomes much easier to set the entire project aside and be temped to ‘wait for a solution to come.’
In all honesty, I have never had a solution come to me without work.
Solutions take research, they take planning, they take trying a new approach and having it fail. Waiting for the perfect solution to spring from my mind fully formed is a sign that I am never going to finish the project, because waiting for the perfect solution is a passive activity. Creating something, anything, from a good meal, to an elaborate Victorian outfit, is an active state.
Creation is action. If I am not actively working on the problem, I am not creating.
That is not to say that I shouldn’t rest and recharge. Actions take energy and no one can be active all time; but there is a difference between resting before coming back to a project and procrastinating.
Sometimes procrastination is a sign that I have hit the limit of my skills. I want the finished piece to be better than I can make it. However, perfect is the enemy of good. I am never going to make anything that is perfect. That is the nature of being a limited being. My time on earth is limited, my physical body has good days and bad days, days where I have excellent fine-motor control, and days when I can’t think my way out of a paper bag. I’m never going to have both enough time and enough skill to make a perfect thing.
But I can make a good thing. I can even make a pretty darn good thing. But not if I don’t work at it. Believing that something can be made perfect kills the good things I am capable of. I will never finish an essay and hand it off to an editor, or write a story for others to enjoy, or have a costume to wear if I don’t sit down and do every step that is required of a finished project.
And there is a certain virtue in finishing a project, declaring it ‘good enough’ and perhaps the best thing you are capable of doing right now, and signing off on it. One of the most useful things I learned from writing fiction with my friends was that if I kept constantly revising my stories until they were perfect, no one but me would ever get to see them. Art has to be released into the world to be art, political acts have to be done and not just talked about to make change.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
Use the next project to improve rather than trying to make the current one perfect. That is what I try to remember when I look at a daunting project.
As we say in our workroom, “Sewing is slow magic, it goes very slowly until the end, when suddenly it is done, like magic!”
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. She spends a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life and her relationship to God and it all spills out in the essays she writes. She recently embarked on a new adventure with her husband, supporting him as he launches Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company