About a month ago, a strange feeling came over me. It was a strange sort of happiness with the idea of my thesis being good enough.
Now, for years I have ended many a project with the reminder to myself, ‘It doesn’t have to be perfect.’ So I have handed in many an imperfect, but still good, piece of work after convincing myself that it was okay for this to be the case. I have never rationally accepted that something must be perfect to be considered done to an acceptable – or even excellent – level. But this rational acceptance was a sort of ‘official position’. ‘It is our official position that the finished product does not have to be perfect.’ (Meanwhile my perfectionism crouched; imagine the way squirrels dig and munch, shifty shifty, nibble nibble, out of the way but still scuttling about; that is the manner of perfectionism.)
However, this time around, the odd feeling of happiness with imperfection differed, because it was a spontaneously arising belief, an unforced satisfaction. I didn’t have to convince myself that good enough was okay. I already believed it.
I confessed this feeling to Mike one night and said, ‘Is it wrong that I feel that way?!’ As soon as I had verbalised to myself that this feeling was a willingness to call my project ‘finished’ without caring whether it were ‘the best it could be’, a host of imaginary voices criticised me. ‘Clearly you don’t care about your work.’ ‘Clearly you aren’t cut out for this, if you’re happy with something being blandly good.’ ‘Clearly you don’t have any genuine drive.’
Mike said, ‘I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s healthy.’
Still feeling a bit renegade, I did recognise that labelling this acceptance of imperfection as a strange, new, unfamiliar feeling suggested what a perfectionist I have always been. I sat with this new feeling and wondered what else in my life would benefit from being simply ‘good enough’.
The things I could do!
If you are a perfectionist, I’d encourage you to reflect a little on what things you don’t do, or don’t finish, because you are afraid they won’t be perfect. The imagine what you’d do if you were free from those stringent standards.
What would I do, or do more often and with more enjoyment, if I accepted that good enough were good enough?
Well, for one thing, I would blog more. I genuinely enjoy sitting down to write a post, and while I know this isn’t a particularly professional blog, writing is enjoyable to me. But I can’t tell you how many drafts I begin and then abandon because I either imagine someone out there would disagree or nitpick (which is always true, by the way), or because I have a standard in my mind of quality, length, or profundity which I think I can’t meet. I’ve written so many posts that might genuinely be interesting ‘tidbits’, certainly to me but probably to a few readers, but I never post them because they aren’t polished enough. What if I just posted them in their imperfect state?
For another thing, I would write more letters and emails to friends. Similarly with blogging, this is an area where I expect more than I can deliver in the course of normal life. Partly this is because I used to have the time and focus to write massive emails to many different friends. When I lived alone, it was an enjoyable way of feeling connected to people. However, gradually, I’ve simply had less of that sort of time – three-hour chunks of evening or weekend. The thing is, what’s really wrong with writing a couple of paragraphs in 20 minutes at lunchtime? Isn’t it better to contact people briefly than not at all? If I could accept that a brief update email was actually good enough, I’d probably keep in better touch with people than if I required myself to write a huge epistle every time.
I would also do more crafty projects. I’m sure you can tell from reading this blog that I enjoy making things, but besides what I finish there’s always a host of projects that I begin but set aside, or avoid altogether, because I can’t meet my own standards.
Case in point: Last year, I decided that I wanted to start making yearly photo books in lieu of getting photos printed or (usually) just keeping everything saved on my computer. I was feeling the nesting instinct, and thinking that as our family (hopefully) grows in the future I would really like to have a good record of its history. I love looking through my family’s photo albums, and occasionally we will sit down together to reminisce, looking at the photos of my parents’ trips before they had kids, our baby photos, and so on. I want to ensure that I can do that with my kids later. I actually kept up, at intervals throughout the year, with a photo book, intending to finish it off with December photos and then print it. Have I printed it? No. Because I always wonder, What if I didn’t include all the photos and missed some by accident? Should I have been more thorough? What if I want to change something later? If good enough were good enough, I would finish that album and print it already!
Let me tell you, when I made this list it was liberating. So here I am. I am writing this blog post without even a satisfying conclusion or any pictures!