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Perfection vs. Good Enough

Perfection vs. Good Enough

How to stop berating yourself and persevere in trying your best.


The other day, while browsing through a bookstore, I happened upon yet another tome promising “The 10 Ways To a Perfect –” something.

Here it is – perfection! If you want the perfect date, marriage, family, just buy the experts' books and poof! Get it down in three or 10 easy steps. We've all seen or read the plethora of blather mucking up the self-help shelves over the last 25 years. And while there are tips we can certainly glean, usually involving common-sense simplicity, the insidious offense is nonsense expectations.

Yet, it sells because the concept of perfection is seductive. Becoming numero uno has always been an American dream. Who doesn't want to make the perfect landing on the Olympic balance beam? Who doesn’t want a “perfectly” happy mate or child? But “perfect” has become an American cultural pastime in the extreme. "Imperfect" means you can't swallow 100 earthworms in under 30 seconds on national TV.

I have faith in the human spirit to make things better. Just not “perfect.”

In human relationships, the danger is even greater. Surrounded by a culture of “perfectionism,” the normal human can only reach one conclusion: We're all a bunch of failures. The very titles of these books imply we're a mess if we've failed to achieve personal Nirvana. So, like mad hatters, we buy this stuff. Then, by "Step Two," when despite our best efforts to follow the expert's “rules,” our mates won't list their faults, our children are headed to Tijuana, our dog is eating our Family Values chart, and our in-laws are cutting us out of the will, what we're left with is: “We’re failures.”

All this because perfectionism is a bold-face impossibility.

The "perfect" child? Start saving for shrink bills.

The "perfect" mate? Check his (and your) blood pressure.

The "perfect" family? A nice thought. Look for signs to Stepford.

Before you call me a hopeless curmudgeon, I've spent my life offering hope and believing in change. I have faith in the human spirit to make things better. Just not “perfect.”

So let's make a simple wording switch. Instead of “perfect,” how about "good enough"? "Good enough" doesn't mean lying in a Barcalounger with a diet Pepsi in a stupor while the family runs amok, ignored. No.

"Good enough" is tough. It demands real work. It requires real commitment, not to a fantasy, but to developing the very best in us and making the very best choices for us, knowing life often deals us major muck-ups.

“Good enough,” at its best, is a concept we Jews can well understand. Having lived in an “imperfect” world, who better than us have had to internalize the value of making things work as best we can? This doesn’t mean “settling.” To the contrary. It means forging ahead to create a better, if not “perfect” reality, given any situation and circumstance.

And the reality is: good parents sometimes have difficult children. Good wives sometimes get left behind. Good dads sometimes get downsized. And only some of the craziness is within our total personal control.

“Good enough" lets you do the things you can control without hacking your ego to hash.

Related Article: Jewish Secrets of Success

Effort vs. Results

• "Perfect" is results driven.

"Good enough" is effort driven – a far more realistic and important quality, regardless of outcome. Time and time again, we see that the truer measure of personal success is “in the trying.”

• "Perfect" sets up unrealistic expectations. If we're not leaping with marital joy 24/7, or if our child was born with the temperament of Genghis Kahn, we feel there's a party going on and our invite was lost in the mail.

"Good enough" lets us manage life in the Real Lane. We see potential and limits, evaluate them, forge strategies, and make solid choices based on effort and circumstances.

•"Perfect," means we've "failed" if we haven't achieved each lofty goal.

"Good enough" means we've tried our best. We can persevere or move on without self-flagellation.

•"Perfect" suggests a shopping list. A one-size-fits all M.O. and standard.

"Good enough" allows us to make life a custom job. It's not about "What's right for Dr. Bestseller" but what works for us and what we wish to achieve.

• "Perfect" suggests absolutes. Failure” and success are rigidly defined.

"Good enough" embraces the very Jewish principle of forgiveness and acceptance of workable situations, even if they're imperfect. It requires understanding that there isn't one answer, but competing values that have to be assessed, debated, and factored in truth.

•"Perfect" becomes an impossible measurement of self-esteem. Mistakes and missteps become a devastating part of our personal self-definition.

"Good enough" allows us to separate our very human flaws and imperfections from our entire self-view. It not only puts other people's foibles in perspective, it permits us to continue to love ourselves, and each other, unconditionally, contributing to our psychological and spiritual well-being.

Life is a glorious work in progress. The next time you see some "expert" hawking "Ten Ways to the Perfect Marriage" or "How to Raise the Perfect Child,” toss the book, and consider setting life by your rules, principles and realities. Try your best and celebrate the fact that yes, you’re not “perfect,” but you’re striving to be “good enough.”

December 25, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 12

(12) Mark, December 4, 2012 9:21 AM

Thank you!

I am not Jewish, but have been fighting with perfection all my life and that is one of the best straightforward common sense articles I have read about it. It helped a lot. Again, thank you!

(11) Andy, December 28, 2010 5:26 PM

good enough is great when we're dead

I agree that only our efforts are in our control and while those may influence results they for certain do not guarantee them. "Man plans and God laughs" may fit at times. Proverbs state "the righteous fall seven times." The key is unlike lesser souls they get up learn from their mistakes and try again. I agree that insistence on perfection however defined is a negative trait and derives from the yaitzer hara, but good enough may be similarly dangerous as it may lead to complacency. While alive good and working for better may be the way to go, and when dead a heavenly decree that one's efforts to fulfill their potential was "good enough" makes sense to me to be a worthwhile goal.

(10) Laneri, December 28, 2010 6:35 AM

Your formula works

As my dance class teacher used to say “Fake it, until you make it!” Inspired with this article I recalculated my personal ability to do the task that seemed impossible before due to pretty objective reasons... The key point was: to make a try without expecting of perfect result and not pushing yourself. As Lori Palatnik once said: “ Don’t think! don’t think! Just do it!” Thanks for giving us a formula of performing simple miracle! No doctor could do more.

(9) Rosa, December 27, 2010 10:14 PM


I love this article as it relates to behaviour and thought but I have a major issue with keeping things perfect, meaning material things; maybe I am a bit ocd but when the towel is bleached, clothes fray, an appliance looks rusty and the couch is ugly, I have such anxiety that I need to replace the item, and sometimes even when I can't afford it. And there isn't a book that can quell that feeling I have, which I try to contain until I can't take it anymore, throw out the item and start over..only to have the same thing happen, as it will.

(8) eliyahu, December 27, 2010 8:44 PM

stop trying so hard!!

achieving perfection or 'good enough' should be easy.if its not easy and fun then were trying too hard and using pressure as a drug to get our bodies to conform to the ideas we feel will make us happy and takes for a person to know himself and understand what he needs in his life that will make him happy.this requires brutally honest self introspection and commitment.sometimes it requires on NOT making goals and trusting yourself that not always critisizing yourself and beating yourself up but rather simply being happy you may then reach your goals!! but everyones different hence- self introspection..good luck to you all!!

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