perfection is a waste of time

December 7, 2010

One thing which never fails to frustrate me is the pointless struggle of so many to find perfection. In anything, from the most mundane tasks to the most complex ones. The simple notion itself is impossible, it’s unattainable, and consequently, it’s entirely pointless.

You’re forever taught to work on something until it’s finished. I have distinct memories of a school teacher encouraging me to work on a finger-painting until it was entirely completed, until every last piece of the paper was covered in some sort of paint. I have no doubt that my artwork was, naturally, amazing for an eight year old  –  artistic genius I’m sure, but said artwork undoubtedly reached a point about 15 minutes before I stopped where it could have been completed – where it was already the best in the class. It’s simply a matter of time vs result – those last 15 minutes of my painting could have been spent elsewhere – digging in the sandpit, perhaps. And that is the essence of my frustration. Why spend those last fifteen minutes, making something perfect, when it could be spent being truly productive elsewhere.

Dictionaries define ‘excellent’ and ‘perfect’ as being the same. In my opinion however, they are vastly different. While my finger painting may have been excellent fifteen minutes before I finished, it was still only excellent when I did eventually complete it. A state of perfection will never be reached. Those final fifteen minutes could have been spent ensuring my other paintings were excellent, or by creating another excellent painting, rather than striving for perfection in that one artwork.

Now, I’m not suggesting working on a project until it’s finished is a bad thing, in fact it’s a great thing – what is counterproductive however is the inevitable search for perfection in that project. The inevitable niggling desire to go back and check it again, to improve just a little. That time could be better spent.

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2 Responses to “perfection is a waste of time”

  1. As interesting of a rant as this is, I don’t necessarily agree.
    I’m a scientist, and perfect to me means flawless. That is easily attainable… by not making any mistakes.

    Watch:
    2+2=4
    ….
    TA DA!

    I’m just playing, but honestly, for many things in life (including mathematics) something is perfect if it meets our definition what what perfect is. If I tell you to draw a line that is exactly 5 cm long, and you oblige, and follow the directions exactly, then you would complete the request perfectly. These are simple examples but I believe they carry over to more complex ideas.

    Similarly, there are existential concepts of perfection. Consider a piece of art (you seem to be artistic). Maybe art can never be “finished” but if it evokes emotion and makes people think and wonder and question their thoughts and beliefs… how does that art (though perhaps not perfect in a technical sense) NOT completely fulfil its purpose?

  2. You make a very interesting point!

    I would argue however that in your example, 2+2=4, the result is by no means perfect. For instance, to be proven beyond all doubt, and consequently be perfect, the problem must be tested an infinitely large number of times in an infinite range of situations. Additionally, to be a truly precise answer, and therefore a truly perfect answer, ‘4’ would have to be written with an infinitely large number of decimal places: 4.00000 etc. 4 could simply be rounded due to significant figures. Going even further, the actual problem ‘2+2=4’ is an imaginary scenario, not a practical one. For instance if we were adding trees, 2+2 trees does not necessarily equal 4 trees – it is again not ‘perfect’ in the true sense of the word.

    The artistic answer is also difficult, but again I don’t think perfection is attained through any art. For it to be truly perfect, it has to appear perfect to all who view the work, and that is an impossible scenario.

    Thanks for your input!

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