As I get to indulge in my bi-annual Olympic madness (which for the record includes temporary Canadian flag tattoos and wearing red every day for two weeks, but I digress), I’ve been thinking about the notion of perfection, and how impossible it really is, and for many of us how unnecessary it is.
When a competition is won or lost by hundredths of a second or a thousandth of a point, I get that that first step out of the block or the amount by which you clear the hurdle can make a difference. And don’t even get me started on the events that are judged. But there are about 10,000 athletes in the Olympics, which I estimate to be about 0.0002% of the world population. And from my point of view, for almost everyone else, done is more important than perfect.
It doesn’t matter whether you are writing a report, developing software, drafting a business plan, or painting a picture. You have to start somewhere, and once you start, and then you get rolling, it moves along nicely. Then towards the end of the process your productivity starts dwindling again as you spend more time with the finicky elements of whatever you are doing. Finally exhaustion or boredom takes over or a deadline is reached, and you have to wrap up what you are doing and let someone else take a look at it.
Anyone tasked with reviewing something like this has a much easier job – it’s so much easier to edit and critique than it is to be an original creator of something.
So what’s the point? Well, this. Nothing you do is ever really perfect. After every presentation I have done I wished I could do bits of it over again. Every book I have read has had a typo or a paragraph that just didn’t work. Every golf round I have played I’ve had shots that I’d like to have done better (usually lots of shots, as it happens).
None of these limited regrets means that the presentation wasn’t effective, or that the book wasn’t a work of art, or that the golf round wasn’t wonderful. Things can be great even if they are not perfect. In fact, it’s the not perfect that probably makes it great. It’s the fact that it’s hard and takes discipline and doesn’t come out quite right that makes it human, and that makes it great.
And that goes for all our Olympic athletes as well.