September 13, 2016

The Perfectionist Trap


With many thanks to TSOL: 

One of the greatest obstacles to a good life is the expectation of perfection. 

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"We typically aim for a particular career because we have been deeply impressed by the exploits of the most accomplished practitioners in the field. We formulate our ambitions by admiring the beautiful structures of the architect tasked with designing the city’s new airport, or by following the intrepid trades of the wealthiest Wall Street fund manager, by reading the analyses of the acclaimed literary novelist or sampling the piquant meals in the restaurant of a prize-winning chef. We form our career plans on the basis of perfection.

Then, inspired by the masters, we take our own first steps and trouble begins. What we have managed to design, or make in our first month of trading, or write in an early short story, or cook for the family is markedly and absurdly, beneath the standard that first sparked our ambitions. We who are so aware of excellence end up the least able to tolerate mediocrity – which in this case, happens to be our own...."

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More from Wiki:
Perfect is the enemy of good is an aphorism, an English variant of the older better is the enemy of good, which was popularized by Voltaire in French form. 
Alternative forms include "the perfect is the enemy of the good", which more closely translate French and earlier Italian sayings, or "[the] perfect is the enemy of [the] good enough". Similar sentiments occur in other phrases, including from English, and are all attested since around 1600.
The phrase is found in Italian as Il meglio è nemico del bene (The better is enemy of the good), attested since the 1603 Proverbi italiani (Italian Proverbs), by Orlando Pescetti.[2]
The phrase was popularized by Voltaire. He first used the saying in Italian in the article "Art Dramatique" in the 1770 edition of the Dictionnaire philosophique.[3] It subsequently appeared in French in his moral poem, "La Bégueule", in Contes (Tales), 1772, which starts, ascribing it to an unnamed "Italian sage" or "wise Italian":[4]
Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien
Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du bien.

(In his writings, a wise Italian
says that the best is the enemy of good.)
This sentiment in English literature can be traced back to Shakespeare,[5] In his tragedy, King Lear, the Duke of Albany warns of "striving to better, oft we mar what's well" and in Sonnet 103:
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?

A widely accepted interpretation of "The perfect is the enemy of the good" is that one might never complete a task if one has decided not to stop until it is perfect: completing the project well is made impossible by striving to complete it perfectly. Closely related is the Nirvana fallacy, in which people never even begin an important task because they feel reaching perfection is too hard.
An alternative interpretation is that attempts to improve something may actually make it worse. Neither the Shakespeare and Voltaire constructions suggest perfection, only improvement, lending support to this interpretation.
Earlier, Aristotle, Confucius and other classical philosophers propounded the related principle of the golden mean, which counsels against extremism in general.[6]
The Pareto principle or 80–20 rule is a 20th-century analogue. For example, it commonly takes 20% of the full-time to complete 80% of a task, while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort.[7] Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.
Robert Watson-Watt, who developed early warning radar in Britain to counter the rapid growth of the Luftwaffe, propounded a "cult of the imperfect", which he described as, "Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes."[8]
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