Talked in my last blog piece about Huffpo’s Complete Guide to Blogging rule perfection is the enemy of done. I love that line. Wish I’d coined it myself. I secretly think I should have been in communications or advertising. I’ve come up with some great slogans and one-liners over the years. Only problem is I have almost zero respect for advertising, and get upset when form trumps content (even though I love Terry O’Reilly’s The Age of Persuasion) So it was never going to happen.
The problem with slogany sayings is, while potentially inspirational, they are just short of helpful in the practical guidance department. Since each saying has its polar opposite slogan like "if at first you don’t succeed try try again,” it’s hard to know which piece of advice to follow. Do you take your best shot, even if it falls short? Or do you keep at it until it’s better? And what about the “old college try” – what is that anyway? When do you know you’ve given it the “old college try”? How do you know if you've only given it the “old high school try”? or the “old kindergarten try”?
The concept of perfect is like infinity. You can always go up one more number. So how does it help me get anything done?
I’m making it easy for myself and aiming for great instead –nebulous and subjective, but at least if you ask people “was it great?” some might say yes. If you ask "was it perfect?" who’d be self-certain enough to sign on?
How do I find the cut-off between perfect and perfect enough, between great and good enough? Isn’t there a degree of disrespect to the reader in not pushing myself as far as I can? And how far is far enough? Buffalo? Birmigham? Bangladesh? What’s the difference between good enough and half-assed?
The point at which people draw their own lines and determine “yup that’s perfect enough for me!” or “yup this is done” differs. Having worked as a manager in a Government policy shop, I’ve been astounded by what defines done or good enough in people’s minds. I often wondered at what point people decide they are happy to call something complete and send it along to become someone else’s problem? Incomplete sentences, lack of references, incoherent arguments, spelling errors despite spell check (of course this can happen – I’m grateful to my friend Robert Meyerowitz for sending me the e-mail below in reference to my last post “btw, in the sentences ‘Every coma, every word can evoke concern. Do I sound stupid? Will someone take it the wrong way?’ I think you mean ‘comma’ not ‘coma.’ Although every coma can evoke concern too, of course.” Mortified and grateful it wasn’t in permanent ink, I hurried to make the change.)
I never considered myself a perfectionist but everything’s relative. Many people don’t mind sending out an e-mail with typos. It happens. But I hate it. Robert has been kind in his responses to these errors but never lets them go unflagged. “Oh is that the way they spell that word in Canada? I’ve never seen that spelling before.”
I always got a kick out of people using perfection in an interview - the old strength-disguised-as-a-weakness trick.
“Tell us about your weaknesses.”
“Well I’m a perfectionist so sometimes I just don’t know when to stop working. I stay too late, work weekends. I just have to make sure it’s perfect.” One person's perfection is another person's time-management problem.
My father is the opposite of a perfectionist. Function over form. Pragmatism and getting shit done rules the day. Aesthetics be damned. So when my parents first got a cottage- a decision my father often attributes to his desire for something to do with his old clothes - he promptly sliced the pant legs off the bottoms of his banana yellow and baby blue polyester leisure suits to use as cut offs. Bad enough he wore them around the cottage when guests were there, but on numerous occasions he managed to slip by my mother and head into town. A man of many rules, and a concern that no one will remember even the obvious ones, he scrawls messy notes on torn pieces of paper and scotch tapes them all over the cottage: “pull toaster out from the wall” “don’t leave freezer open” “don’t hang heavy coats here”. He’s got frightening DIY approaches that favour torn rags over duct tape, branches over stakes. Just get the job done with whatever you have at your disposal. If it doesn’t last, do it again.
My dad’s not the only inspiration in the just do it department. Most kids have little need for perfection. How many cards have I seen with “ happy birthday so and so” - birthday scratched out and anniversary written on top
“Maybe you want to do the card again sweetie.” Response: a dirty look – why would I possibly waste my time?
Here I am at the put-it-out-there stage of my life, no longer satisfied with the thought that interesting pieces of my unpublished writing entertain each other on my computer. I want other people to read it. I know it sounds silly but I want everyone to love it like my parents do – pretty much unconditionally.
There’s a continuum of perfection and I'll figure out what to aim for. Some things need to be perfecter than others. And while I may not need to be outstanding I do want to stand out. What I write may be neither perfect nor great. But if people can relate, if it makes a few laugh, and inspires one or two now and again, I’ll count myself lucky.