Friday, June 29, 2012

The Enemy of Good

In all the hullabaloo over yesterday's Supreme Court Ruling on Obama's health care act, we forget that Obama didn't come up with the plan. Ironically, a large part of the plan was cribbed from Richard Nixon's own plans. Believe it or not, Tricky Dick wanted to reform health care, and he actually had an ally in Senator  Ted Kennedy. However, because the plan wasn't exactly what Kennedy wanted, because it was just good and not perfect, Kennedy scuttled the whole thing.

Kennedy died before any actual health care reform bill was passed. One of his biggest regrets, aside from inconvenient lakes (zing!), was sabotaging Nixon's plan because it wasn't perfect. Kennedy learned a hard lesson, one we should all be wary of: perfect is the enemy of good.

I'm not here to talk about the specifics of the Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare" for short). No, I want to talk about the perfection trap, the lie that everything must be perfect or it isn't good. That if you can find one fault, one flaw, then we need to tear everything down and start over.

I want to talk about it because that's pretty much one of my biggest faults. I can be a huge nitpicker when it comes to what I'm doing. Whether it's writing a book, making silly shirts, or writing scripts, I can get so caught up in making sure every single detail is perfect that I wind up not doing anything. I get paralyzed by perfectionism, and if left unchecked, it will mean that I never do anything.

This doesn't mean that I don't fix problems that come up. I do that a lot. This also doesn't mean that I just slap together something substandard and toss it onto the pile. I want to make sure that what I'm creating is good. My goal is quality, and there's nothing wrong with that. I just make sure that I don't use perfectionism as an excuse.

While quality is the goal, sometimes it's not going to be exactly like you want. Sometimes you have to let a few things be just okay so that overall this is good. This is very evident when it comes to movies. A movie is never going to be perfect. There's always something that's going to be wrong with it, and you can ruin a great movie if all you focus on is the errors.

Sometimes it's a simple as a continuity error, in which one shot shows a person wearing a watch, but they aren't wearing it in the next shot. A person could drink a glass of water, then two seconds later be holding a full glass. The reason this happens is because movies are shot over a long period of time, and sometimes these details get overlooked. Some scenes are shot and then re-shot weeks later, and sometimes it's hard to keep track of every detail.

Sometimes the imperfection is bigger. I happen to love the 2009 Star Trek reboot. It's on my shelf right now, and when I need a pick-me-up I pop it in. After watching it several times, I can easily rattle off the plot holes. Some people really had a problem with the lens flares in the movie, saying that it ruined it for them. Other detractors didn't like the fact that suck iconic roles were recast. So yes, I can see the flaws in this movie.

It doesn't mean it still isn't good. It's a good movie. Star Trek is fun, entertaining, emotional, and very humorous. It's everything that a good Star Trek movie should be. And I can either let all this nitpicking ruin something I enjoy, or I can just accept that yes, it has flaws, but it doesn't make it any less good.

I've mentioned Babylon 5 several times on this site. That was a show that did not go according to master plan. That's always a factor of network television, you have to made adjustments on the fly. A lot of plot points were reworked when cast members left, when the budget limited what was possible, and when it looked like they needed to finish everything in 4 seasons when the original plan was for five. Was the show perfect? No. But it is still good, and still one of my favorites.

This can apply to everything you might do. You might want to start a charity. Or a rock band. Or become a stand-up comedian. You might try writing your own books, creating your own video game, or financing or producing your own independent movie. Whatever your goal, remember this: it won't be perfect, but it can still be good.

You have one of two options. You can accept that the world isn't perfect and that things won't work out exactly as you want. But you can also try to make things as good as possible and do something productive. You can realize that more good than bad is still a net positive, and it's better than nothing.

Or you can wallow in your own perfectionist misery. You can get nothing done and complain that everything isn't perfect, everything isn't exactly how it should be. While others are actually doing something, you sit there, bitter, in the dark, grumbling because the world didn't recognize the fact that you would have done it first if everything had just been perfect.

I've been in both groups, and I prefer the group that actually does something. No, it's never perfect, but I can constantly make it better. I can improve what I've produced and learn from experience for next time. I will make mistakes, but that only makes me better. I don't want to look back on my life and regret not doing something because it wasn't perfect.

Perfect is the enemy of good.

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