“Done is better than perfect.”
I love the Internet for many reasons, not the least of which is that in a few keystrokes I can find amazing, inspiring quotes like the one above. I also hate the Internet for many reasons, not the least of which is that no one sources their quotes.
Thus, I cannot properly credit who came up with the above. I cannot even properly remember where I first read it. But suffice it to say it is inspiring, and I wasn’t the first one to coin the phrase.
No, I was definitely not the first one. Because that’s the sort of thing I would never, ever say. Because for most of my life, I never would’ve believed it. I never would have believed that being done was better than being done perfectly.
Like a lot of our most central thoughts, that’s not the sort of thing I’d have ever said out loud. If I had, I probably would’ve figured it out a long time ago. It’s the same reason you don’t see the word “perfect” thrown around as much, not as a goal anyway. Because when you start to say “perfect”, it’s really easy to add the “-ionism” to the end, and then the jig is up. That’s the thing about skewed ideas. In the light, you can see the flaws.
At the same time, I know for me and I imagine for a lot of people, the “p-word” shows up a lot more than we realize or would like to admit. Whether or not we say it out loud, perfection is often one of our goals. I know it’s always been for me.
And, again, out loud, we can see the error. Perfection is not only unattainable but indefinable. It’s the rainbow’s end, the ever-stretching horizon, the moving goalposts. We know it’s not something we’ll ever reach, and yet…
And yet, somewhere in our subconscious, there’s a compass that always seems to be pointing towards it. I don’t say any of this to make it seem like we shouldn’t try our best. Obviously, we should. The compass isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just a guideline. We’re told, after all, to aim high.
And maybe we’re land among the stars.
Another quote that I can’t properly source says that perfection is like the North Star. We’ll never reach it, but if we use it as a guide, we can get wherever we’re going.
And I believe that’s all true. And I think we know that, for the most part. But we humans, as talented as we are at taking broad, un-nuanced concepts and wielding them like hammers; we are also scary good at splitting hairs.
Tell us we’ll never reach the stars, and the first question we ask is, “yeah, but how much are we expected to miss by? An inch or a mile?” Sure, we’ll never get there, but how close can we get? And will it be closer than someone else who maybe didn’t try as hard? (It’s this sort of thinking that invented the A+.)
Oddly enough, I think this mode of thought might be the flipside of the coin to the attitude that asks what the bare minimum to qualify is. Ambition and laziness, the binary star system that makes up the human ego.
But, as much as we might recognize that perfectionism is harmful, unattainable even, we find it so very hard to set it aside, to not use it as our main method of judging success. Perfection might be unattainable, but what else is there?
And here’s the self-determinative part of the sermon.
How do you tell when you’re done?
That’s the question we ask. That’s why we pull perfection into the mix, because it seems like the best answer. In many ways, it seems like the only answer. Because any other answer, by sheer definition of the word involved, would have to be less. Don’t tell me “good enough.” Good enough compared to what? Perfect?
“Enough”, as it turns out, is just as numinous a goal as perfect.
So how do you tell? How do you know?
The answer? You decide.
And that’s the part I could never accept.
Being done is better than perfect, for the sheer fact that you will never reach perfect, so you might as well be done, otherwise you won’t be anything. There’s always going to be more to do, more to add or take out. It will always be less than perfect, so if we make perfect our goal, we’ll be working forever. How then do we decide it’s good enough to be done? We just do.
And, trust me, that frustrates me to no end, and I know why. Because I want there to be something else that can tell me when it’s good enough. I want something objective, outside myself, some standard I can put my creative works up against so I know they’ll be worthwhile before I ever put them out there.
Because I don’t trust my own judgment.
And just like that, it comes back to self-esteem.
Yes, it’s true. If you don’t trust your own judgment, you’re not likely to put anything out there. Nothing that really matters, anyway. Because there’s nothing else that you can use to judge it. Nothing helpful, anyway.
Take it from someone who’s stifled more projects than he’s published, for this very reason, there’s nothing else you can rely on. Unless you decide it’s good enough, it never will be. Even simpler than that, if you don’t decide it’s done, it never will be. So, at some point, you have to.
At some point, you have to decide that it’s time, and you are the only who can. And, if you don’t… well, you don’t need me to tell you.
And this is something I’m learning.
“Done is better than perfect.”
I say it to myself about once a day. Because I know it’s true. I know that if I didn’t decide to be done, I never would have made this site live. I never would have written this blog post. And I never will publish any of the stories I have written, am writing, or will ever write.
It doesn’t answer all the questions, and it’s still something I have to judge on a case-by-case basis. But that’s the idea.
There isn’t a rule or rubric. There isn’t a standard or formula. (Trust me, no one wishes there were more than I do.) But the good news is: there isn’t one. There’s nothing stopping us from creating, except us. Not an easy hurdle to overcome, but we can.
And we should.