Perfect Is the Enemy of Done

Written by Meg Seiler on February 9, 2012

Perfect is the enemy of done.”  The words stopped me in my tracks. I had never heard this adage before. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I do remember the impact it had the moment my friend blurted it out at me. It was a bit of an epiphany, actually.

 

You see, I’m a perfectionist. This much wasn’t news. I’ve been aware that I was a perfectionist for a long time. My Aunt Sissy identified it decades ago as a family trait…or more like a curse.

 

We could joke about it, but we also recognized it as an affliction that could work against us because it so often led us to frustration.

 

What I hadn’t considered — and what hadn’t been proffered before – was the more practical cost of absolute perfectionism. I add the “absolute” qualifier because there is certainly an upside to the pursuit of perfection. It breeds excellence.

 

However, when it is so absolute that it leads to inertia or a delay that makes the final result obsolete, then it is no longer an asset, but a detriment.

 

So I try to be mindful of my friend’s words. Of course, the real challenge is knowing the right moment to let go and allow the near-perfect to move forward. To paraphrase the prayer often attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

 

God grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot be perfected; the courage to perfect the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.