My postdoctoral researcher sends me a weekly progress report – just some quick highlights from the different projects he’s working on. Normally, I get the report attached to an e-mail with a simple, “Here you go, Boss,” but this week he added a little more detail regarding his recent frustrations. He explained how he had disassembled a working system in an effort to make a small adjustment that would make it even better, only to discover that he couldn’t put it back together again. Humpty Dumpty problems. (He did eventually get it back together and it works beautifully, but that’s a story for another day). I could almost hear his sigh as he closed the e-mail with a somber, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.”
Wow, I thought, that’s deep. I read it over and over again before responding to him. I eventually told him that I was stealing that line for my blog, at which point he admitted that it was not an original. So we dug a little deeper into its origin and found that it was adapted from a saying popularized by Voltaire, the French writer, historian, and philosopher. Voltaire was a prominent figure during the Age of Enlightenment in 18th Century Europe, which was very fittingly associated with the Scientific Revolution that also emerged around this time period. There are plenty of cases where “good enough” is all we really need. Are we too blinded by our need to be the best that we can’t see what we’ve already achieved?
I hate to think that we should ever strive to be or do anything “good enough,” but do we sometimes sacrifice too much to be perfect? And what is perfect, anyway? Once we reach our current perception of perfection, don’t we often just set a new, higher standard? Whatever your current life goals are – whether they include fitness, nutrition, career, family, personal development – don’t let perfect be the enemy of how far you’ve come. As long as we continue to move forward (and not always in a straight path), strive to be better and stronger than we were before, then there is no perfect ending to keep us from admiring the trail we’ve blazed behind us.
As my favorite yoga instructor from grad school used to tell us, “Practice makes personal best.” And isn’t that good enough?