turn left before perfection
Yes that’s an asterisk. You would typically see these on application forms incumbent with some degree of commitment anywhere within the spectrum of signing up for a supermarket rewards card to re-mortagaging your house. All with a variety of emotional cattle prods within the footnote section, or as I like to call it, the disappointment section. As uses of asterisks go personally I think there should be one beside anything on a menu with jalapeno in it but that’s not today’s message. Ultimately with these forms and the customary disappointment section it emerges that the initial attractive thing is not as it seems. Well, that’s the irony here. At least I thing that’s the definition of irony, it certainly isn’t having 10000 spoons when all you need is a knife. That’s just shitty. Alanis, I digress. So nine times out of ten you will go ahead and sign your name to that form and accept the footnotes and the diminished attractiveness because why? That’s right, it’s not perfect but it’s good enough.
The point is * = but not ALWAYS! Hence why it is prefaced by “almost”.
As a self-confessed perfectionist (it took me forever to get the confession right) I have worked half-arsedly for many years in an attempt to rid myself of this paralysing affliction. Don’t get me wrong, decreased effort is not what it’s about. It’s about getting past the obsession to be perfect to find something that is great, accept it and move on. It still makes you want to pop a square metre of bubble wrap* to soothe the psycho within but it means you’ve gotten something done that you should be proud of. My earliest memory of the detrimental effect of the pursuit of perfection was when I was about 11 or 12 years old and I entered an art competition in which you had a short period of time to complete anything from a sketch to a water-colour etc. I was pretty good with pencils as a kid and had a particular affinity for nature. I was sketching an Osprey catching a fish out of a lake but I could’t get the shape of the wings right so I kept drawing and erasing, drawing and erasing for about 40mins, I was still frantically trying to get it perfect up until the last second and bang! Timer goes off and I’m still wingless. I was 80% there but not finished. The quality of what I had done was far superior to anything else handed in but an Osprey with no wings is less than impressive. I was devastated. Had I given myself the concession that it was good enough I would have won. I would still have been twitching over the lack of a consistent curve on the wings and so there’s that post production guilt that also needs to be tackled in the process but it would have been finished.
* satisfaction may vary according to preferred bubble size which cannot be guaranteed at the time of the psychosis. Relief for a limited time only, not available with any other offers.
Missing puzzle pieces replaced by cardboard cut outs
Perfection has its place but it’s not in everyday life. Perfection is for NASA and forensic science, it’s for life or death scenarios. Perfection is also relative, how other people perceive your version of perfection can be soul destroying. Perfection is often a defence against the inability to take criticism and the fear of failure. However getting something done is universally getting something done as long as the end result is effective. It’s an important lesson to teach. There will always be arguments for and against in a myriad of scenarios. The pursuit of perfection is for a majority a fruitless exercise, try instead for the pursuit of excellence. Be confident in your selection of when to settle for good enough whether in the giving or receiving. Make peace with the perfectionist within, she will always be there. You can let her out every so often but choose wisely.
If you want to delve further into the science behind this read or listen to audiobook; The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz
A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault. ~John Henry Newman
I first heard of this concept while listening to Tim Ferriss interview the chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin (A very interesting character, links and books below). It really struck a chord with me. The idea is based around quasi-metaphor of a surfer, paddleboarder or any other similar hobby or sport in which the person and the equipment become intimately connected and have a somewhat unique and inexplicable connection with each other. This sort of entanglement is based on the trust and knowledge that the “board” ot “tool” will guide the user in a particular way to which the user is intuitively aware and mostly subconsciously accustomed to.
It is in this in connection and subconscious reliance we find the question.
Is there anything to be gained by swapping boards?
In the age of the measurable, quantifiable, explicable and tangible there is little room for the risk of theoretical. Would two competing businesses be willing to swap a team of people in a similar department in each company with another and track the results? Of course not, that would be insane. But, what if? We all know that it would bring a different dynamic to the problem solving process and how it is approached. It is in using a different board or set of tools that we can uncover somthing about ourselves along the way.
Take for example an experience of mine many years ago I borrowed an electric circular saw from a carpenter friend of mine. I thought that using his superior equipment I would blitz through my DIY project. He made it look so seemingly effortless whizzing through the pine with smug precision. Wanker! Give me that. 30 seconds in and my pride was hurting far more than my arm. It was a disaster. A series of jerks and jumps, the wood was on the floor and the saw has violently wrangled itself out of my hand and I’m holding my twisted wrist.
I had neither the strength or coordination to be able to even let the saw do the job that it has been so beautifully engineered to do. That is no reflection on the quality of the saw but the ability of the idiot trying to guide it. Me.
This inate object had put me firmly on my arse and given me something profound to think on. Despite the simplicity the application of the principle is far reaching.
“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”
– Oscar Wilde
Let’s get straight to the point here, in a somewhat roundabout way. I don’t like smalltalk, never did. Neither did my grandfather. He nor I in our superior wisdom appreciated the importance of it. It seemed superfluous for a very long time and to him until the end of his time. If you can’t internalise your own meandering bullshit complaints please don’t inflict them on me of all people for Christ’s sake. Yes, the fucking weather, I fucking know it’s shit, I don’t need you and every other prick on the street reminding me of it’s obvious abhorrence.
However, I did finally realise the importance of engaging in such seemingly menial verbal transactions in my mid twenties when I found myself being tolerated by few and befriended by less. In my well crafted ability to cut to the chase I was cutting out the very substance of many relationships or at least the starting point of what would later become valued relationships.
You see there are a couple of things in this world which are grossly undervalued on a daily basis and in the age of “on demand” growing increasingly scarce. These “things”, for want of a better word, are as follows;
Trust & Attention.
You cannot have one without some hint of the other. In order to successfully cultivate a meaningful relationship with anyone you must give a person your attention. If you do not give a person your attention in the aforementioned “seemingly menial verbal transaction” (I will often quote myself) you are projecting outwardly that they are not worthy of your attention and therefore they have no reason to reciprocate. That’s why such phrases as “building trust” and “giving attention” are so common place, because there is an intrinsic effort in doing such. To give and to build.
Now for a a person who likes to get to the point of a conversation or otherwise as quickly as possible but also as informed as possible it sure as shit took me a long time to get to this conclusion. Perhaps I glossed over the notes a bit too quickly or maybe I could blame someone else for not giving me the textbook or possibly and more likely I was copying from my neighbour, in my case, my ever stoic grandfather. In any case, I’m glad I figured it out.
So if you find yourself rushing through the pleasantries (which I still fucking hate by the way) and the “seemingly menial verbal exchange” (I told you so) take the time to give someone a little nugget of your attention today and it will be the foundation to building something bigger and even possibly mutually beneficial.
I will always end with a quote or a bastardised version of a quote I heard or read somewhere over the past week usually unrelated to the post but something that resonates with me personally at the time.
“There is no greater waste of resource than doing that well which should not have been done at all”