Thursday, June 7, 2012

GOOD vs. PERFECT: Why Worse Is Better

This is the promised post that I talked about when I introduced my "One Good Way To..." series yesterday. Why am I focusing on a good way to do something, rather than on the best way? Read on to find out.

I don't know about you, but I'm a big devotee of America's Test Kitchen. I'll just call it by the pet name ATK throughout the rest of this post, mmkay? I own several ATK cookbooks and a few DVDs. Yes, I will watch a cooking show on DVD, like it's a blockbuster new release or something. Is that weird? Don't answer that.

Angel Food Cake by America's Test Kitchen
ATK's "thing" is that they have the BEST recipe for angel food cake, meatloaf, Caesar salad, or whatever else you want to cook. To quote from the ATK website, "Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most-foolproof recipe."

Sounds great, right? It is. For them. And for me, when I use their recipes. But I'm trying to get over the idea that I need to translate this idea into the rest of my life. I've tended to think that if I research and analyze and worry and be anxious and plan for all contingencies and try and try and try again, I can yield a foolproof life. My parenting methods can be foolproof. My cleaning methods can be foolproof. My purchasing decisions can be foolproof. My decorating choices can be foolproof. And if I CAN'T do it perfectly, I CAN'T do it at all. When I do try, I often waste a lot of time procrastinating, planning, and overdoing...only to end up with a finished product I consider inferior because I had set my expectations so high in the first place. And you know what? The difference between doing nothing and doing anything at all is huge, but the difference between doing something and doing it to perfection? Not really all that noticeable, especially to anyone but yourself.
Ed Batista - Measuring the Infinite

So, farewell to all that striving and worrying and supposed foolproofing! It's madness! ATK has a 2,500 square foot kitchen with over three dozen cooks working to perfect those recipes. I'm just one person. Me. I don't need to be practically perfect in every way like Mary Poppins (great show, by the way -- my sisters and I completely wore out our recorded-from-TV VHS copy when we were kids, then still watched it with black and white tracks all over the screen). I am trying to incorporate into my way of thinking and living the principle that my efforts are of value -- even when they're not perfect. That good enough is good enough. That an imperfect dinner served is better than a perfect dinner never served. As Voltaire said [paraphrased/translated], "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Now, I'm not saying that perfection doesn't have its place. It just no longer has a place in my day-to-day life. Now I just need to start practicing what I'm preaching and quit messing around with this post :-)

Cute illustrated print by Mandipidy on Etsy

What things do you like to have done *just right*? What things do you not mind letting slide a little? (I like to do a good job sweeping, but I don't really mind if I don't mop the "right" way every time.) Are you a perfectionist? Are you a successful perfectionist? Are you a reformed perfectionist? I'd love to hear feedback and ideas from others who struggle with this perfection problem.

{You might enjoy this article by Gretchen Rubin (author of The Happiness Project), which covers this ground more eloquently: "When 'Good Enough' Is Better Than Perfect".}


  1. I love to make the bed PERFECTLY when the sheets are freshly cleaned! I mean, nurse corners- tight creased turndown- fluffed pillows- the works! Then never make the bed again for the next few weeks until I get around to washing the bedding again. warped thinking. If it isn't perfect then I'm not Gunna bother making the bed AT ALL!

    1. I'm right there with you, sister! Bed-making was something else I was going to mention in my "like to do it perfectly" section. Buuuuuut...with Tyson working nights I have pretty much given up on ever making the bed, so, likewise, I am only doing it when I have just washed the bedding.

      P.S.: Are you ever going to write on your blog again??!! I miss your posts! I just checked and it's been a year :( You were one of the best bloggers out there, always making me LOL (see? I can learn!).

  2. Funny that you guys mentioned bed-making, because that was the prime example I had. I never make it the right way either. But I've noticed that even if I do a crappy job, even just pulling the blankets up (all at the same time and lumpy) that it looks better, and feels better at night.

    Have you heard of Flylady? She opened my eyes to this perfectionism idea. I feel like I have to clean perfectly to clean at all, or I'm not going to do it. She says even cleaning the wrong way blesses your home. I never thought a messy house implied perfectionism but it's true. I feel pressure (self-imposed?) to be good or near perfect at about 57 things (cleaning, cooking, designing, gardening, make up, decorating, etc) and it's just too much. I need to figure out how to be "good enough". Off to read that article now...

    Glad I'm not the only one!

    1. Yes Hilary, FlyLady is great. I first saw her site almost three years ago, and that's when I started to realize a lot of my disorganization, procrastination, and messiness was stemming from perfectionism. Ironic, isn't it? I have picked up some good FlyLady habits (see a load of laundry all the way through each morning, run the dishwasher at night and unload in the a.m.), but there are others I need to work on (ummm...go to bed early?).

      Also, I agree that even just pulling up the covers on the bed makes the room feel so much better. There's usually one thing like that in each room. My house looks so much better when the dining table is cleared off. Which, since I use it as my desk, it rarely is!

      Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Bahaha! You guys is funny. I would not classify myself as a perfectionist...just a narcissist. See, it's way easier; if you think everything you do is *automatically* perfect, then you don't have to worry yourself with *trying* to be perfect. It just happens naturally! Ta da!

    Seriously, though...I think that most of the stuff I do is good enough. I'm a believer that no matter how smart you are, talented you are, capable your are -- and on and on -- there is always someone who is more smart, more talented, more capable. But that doesn't depress me; it just makes me feel satisfied with my own efforts and unconcerned about about how they look when compared with someone else's. Have you heard this quote by Charles Wheelan? "Don't try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn't, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.” I'm fine with being solid, as long as it's by my own standards and not by someone else's. That being said...

    ...there are some things that drive me nuts when I do them and they don't turn out the way I wanted. Mostly cooking stuff. I'll pull an ATK and make a recipe over and over until I'm satisfied with the results. And even after I've had several successes, I'll get all stressed out every time I make it. Weird, I know. I guess I don't want to do worse than I know I'm capable of. Also weird.

  4. I don't usually think of myself as a perfectionist in the stereotypical way -you know, perfect parent, perfect house, perfect meals, that sort of thing. But in other ways I'm realizing that I have to battle it. For instance, not setting a goal because I might not fully reach it, not making a comment during a class because it might come out all wrong, not making a journal entry because who knows how long it will be until I make another one, that sort of thing. It came up all the time working as a speech therapist because I was so painfully aware that my therapy sessions were a far cry from what I envisioned as "perfect" -what I imagined another therapist would have accomplished. I need to put up a picture of that chart to remind me how much better is to try, struggle, learn, and to accomplish something --regardless of how messy it gets or how short your effort seems to fall. There's a song from the animated "The Hobbit" that goes, "It's so easy not to try, let the world go drifting by, if you never say hello, you don't have to say goodbye." But how much better to say hello! :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.