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Perfect Is the Enemy of Good

·4 mins

When someone asks me, “s’whattaya do?”, I have a difficult time providing a straight answer. These days, I suppose any of these would be acceptable answers:

  • Software Artisan
  • Philosopher
  • Amateur Blogger
  • Author
  • Investor
  • Entrepreneur
  • Human With Two Dogs
  • Computer Person
  • Techie
  • Nerd
  • Former Lyft Driver
  • Autodidact
  • Potato Farmer

Okay, okay, I will stop there. I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

A lot of people get a little too attached to job titles and labels, but in truth, you can put whatever you want on your résumé and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop you (they could certainly verify your employment history or other facts, but you are free to identify with whichever profession you choose).

For me personally, I suppose I just enjoy getting shit done. I am pretty good at doing whatever needs to be done, and I generally have preferences in terms of what to work on, but provided I’m physically capable of performing the task, I can probably do a decent job of whatever.

I do, however, sometimes find myself seeking perfection in what I do, which I think can be a huge roadblock to success for a lot of people.

Perfection isn’t Perfect #

There are several problems with achieving perfection. The first problem is that perfection is strictly unattainable. This is a goal that can never be achieved, at least for any sufficiently complex problem. I suppose it might be possible for the simplest of works: you could perhaps produce the most perfect 10x10 pixel image of the colour #ffffff, but I’ll ignore such arguments.

Even if you genuinely and confidently believe you can produce perfect work (you can’t), it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to judge it as such. If you are the arbiter of greatness for whatever thing you’re trying to produce, you must be such a model of perfection yourself that no one else would even know how to recognize your work as perfection.

Embracing Imperfection #

Diving deeper into the rabbit hole, you may begin to notice something fascinating, which is that true masterpieces are chock full of imperfection. Upon reflection you may feel the need to ask yourself “is imperfection what makes a masterpiece?”. This question, I think, is an excellent one.

I’d argue that imperfection is a core feature of humanity, it’s what separates us from computers and makes people relatable. It’s why computer-generated art will never be real art, because (for example) part of what makes Van Gogh’s art so special is his own life story, in addition to his skills and technique. Computer-generated art is nothing more than statistical mimicry, and while it’s just as useful as stock photography in marketing material or covering the walls of a hotel lobby, it’s not really art in the proper sense. I think there’s a place in the world for computer-generated art, but its place is at the lowest tier of art: ads, commercial real estate, propaganda, and the whole superhero genre.

Evoking an Emotional Reaction #

Art is entirely subjective, but good art evokes an emotional reaction. For example, while I don’t like Taylor Swift’s music, I respect her as an artist because her songs are authentic, and it’s evident from her performances that she is deeply passionate about her work. She connects with her fans on a level that can’t be repackaged, rebundled, or reused for commercial purposes simply because the mere act of doing so would cancel out any authenticity.

Taylor Swift evokes an emotional reaction within her Swifties that only makes sense when you understand that Taylor Swift herself is imperfect, as are her fans, and they connect over those imperfections. While I’m no expert on Taylor Swift, a cursory glance at the lyrics of her songs suggests most of them are about the trials and tribulations of being a girl in a world with too many options on the dating apps. I can’t relate to this because my experience with the apps has been one of being ignored, ghosted, and rejected by most women over what I assume is trivial nonsense, or simply a lack of attraction or interest on their part. The apps have conditioned people to seek perfection, which is unattainable.

Take this masterpiece from Taylor Swift, a song called “Cruel Summer”, in which Taylor complains about how hard it is dating boys:

And it’s new, the shape of your body
It’s blue, the feeling I’ve got
And it’s ooh, whoa, oh
It’s a cruel summer
It’s cool, that’s what I tell ’em
No rules in breakable heaven
But ooh, whoa oh
It’s a cruel summer
With you

She appears to be lamenting the fact that the man she’s chosen doesn’t equally reciprocate her affection, or something to that effect. My suggestion to her is to move on to the next one.

Even with some 8 billion people on this planet, none of them are perfect. Perhaps the reason Taylor is so unhappy is that while she’s learned to embrace her own imperfection, she hasn’t learned to embrace the imperfection in others.