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September 16th, 2018

Perfection, as a modern concept is an asymptotic illusion.  Something that cannot be achieved, and yet something we spend an inordinate amount of time fussing about.  The obscene amount of time spent retaking selfies comes to mind as a particularly superficial attempt to achieve this illusion.


But the word perfect, if we look at it from an etymological and historical standpoint, simply means ‘completed’.


Alas, the word has mutated far beyond ‘completed’ into some kind of idealized and unattainable state.


It’s this imagined ideal that hinders many people.  So much so that many potentially great projects do not even begin to see the light of day.


Perhaps part of this reason is that we occasionally come across products of culture that we admire so much that we regard them as perfect, or at least so far away from what we imagine our own abilities can achieve that such a thing might as well be in the realm of perfection.  In all of these cases, we do not even get the montage of progress that lead to such a final result.  We only see what the creators wanted us to see.  We would do well to remember that even if we were privy to some kind of summary montage of progress, the montage is still false.  Only by going on a similar journey of progress and development can we get the most comprehensive and intimate view of all the imperfect efforts that were required to achieve the end product.


Progress merely means to move forward, deriving literally from, ‘to walk forward’.


If we wish to accomplish or complete anything, we would be much better served to concentrate all of our mental efforts on this second concept.  The idea of progress, or merely generating forward motion, or rather any motion at all.  Some progress may reveal that we are actually moving in the wrong direction, and even that revelation is far more productive than doing nothing at all because an mental obsession with perfection has our mind stuck in a RUT of circular thinking.


The first few efforts with regards to any project often shows just how out of touch our minds are with the reality of any given project.  Details we worried about can turn out to be nothing at all, while obstacles never imagined pop up and surprise us.


Any project, is a projection of our own mind upon reality.  To project something means to throw something forward.  The word means something very similar to progress, and this would do us well to remember.


We cast efforts upon reality and see how they land.  We tailor our next effort based on the impact our previous effort had, and when we have done this enough times so that reality has changed enough so as to look like what we initially imagined, then we might say that our work is completed.  Technically we could say that the result is perfect, merely because we succeeded in completing our efforts.  Of course almost no one would label a finished project as perfect, but it might do us some psychological good to haul the word back to its roots and do away with the modern idealized concept it now inhabits.


This new incarnation of the word perfect could very well be a categorical mistake.  One that has hindered untold numbers of people who have had an inkling of an idea that was never acted upon for fear of falling short of the ideal.


We must examine our own relationship to the word and pull out the screwdrivers and wrenches if necessary.  Perhaps even a sledgehammer.  It begs the question:


Can we have an unhealthy relationship to a word? 


If there’s any chance the answer is yes, then we might be best served to try and change that relationship. 


We may want to find some way to haul the word perfect a little closer to the word ‘completed’ in our mind.  Or we may want to forget about perfection all together.


Any attempt to subvert the concept of perfection will probably lead to some progress.


Progress that might even spread to all sorts of areas of our lives.



This episode references Episode 125: Rut, Episode 139: Regretting Categorical Mistakes, Episode 21: The Montage is False, and Episode 8: Tiny Steps and Leaps

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 154: Progress or Perfection?

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