The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good

About a week ago I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the nirvana fallacy.

(I didn’t want to forget, so I opened my journal in the dark to what I thought was a blank page, and proceeded to scribble all over a not-blank page. #writerproblems)

This is a crippling, insidious logical fallacy that can derail even the best and brightest among us.

It’s the false belief that the solution to a given problem must be perfect, complete, a triumph, if it is to be of any value at all.

I can’t keep writing until this sentence is absolutely perfect.

Why bother turning my lights off at home when companies are leaving their office lights on 24/7?

There’s no point reducing my meat intake because so many other people are going to keep on eating the same amount.

Or, put another way, what I personally can achieve is X, but Y is the optimal solution. Therefore, X is not good enough, and not worth doing.

Y is often just not possible for us to achieve on our own, and X would allow us to make meaningful progress with the resources we have available.

But we’re so invested in perfection that instead we freeze, stopped in our tracks by a flaw in our thinking.

Voltaire, French writer extraordinaire, put it thus:

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

I think this fallacy weighs heavily on creatives. We’re scared of The Gap between our taste and what we can create, and we’re scared of the reaction the work is going to get from others.

We’re scared of falling short of our own expectations, while everyone else watches it happen.

But here’s the open secret: no piece of work is perfect. No solution is perfect. No one looks back on their life with the satisfaction of having got every single thing exactly right.

The satisfaction, the meaning, the impact — it all comes from having done something.

It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect, or even close to perfect. It matters that it’s done, that you made it as good as you were able, and that you were able to let it go when it couldn’t be made any better.

2021 is well underway. No matter what you’re working on — whether it’s writing, your professional skills, your family connections — let it be the year you show yourself some grace, and let that grace unravel all those fallacious knots that have slowed you down.

May it be the year of the good, if not the perfect, and may that be enough.