I caught a Voltaire quote today which led to immediate inspiration.
The best is the enemy of the good. (Voltaire)
Other versions (due to differences in translation) include:
The better is the enemy of the good.
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
If you’ve read some prior posts herein (e.g., Perfection), you may immediately understand why this quote caught my attention.
Hello my name is Sarah, and I’m a perfectionist.
But rather than focusing on Voltaire’s “the best,” what I want to talk about is “the good.” Or rather, trying to appreciate the good.
When it comes to some topics, such as art, I immediately relate to the good and the best.
For instance, I very, very much enjoy photojournalistic photography – capturing moments in their “natural” state sans retouching/editing (or with very limited revisions). There’s just something about this “purist” approach, if you will, that really grabs me. Plus, not to mention, in taking such photos the photographer has to work pretty quickly to adjust the mechanics of the camera in real time – which can take admirable skill.
Recently, I’ve been immersed in the work done by the photographers in the Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA). The contest winning photos are really amazing, and weddings are one of those life moments in which there is just so much raw humanness, so much feeling and interaction. But beyond these “best of” photos, I’ve also really enjoyed hunting around the website and finding the work of other active photographers with work that did not place in a contest, but is still very striking and beautiful. And while it’s easy to focus only on the prize winning shots, and equally easy to compare those to other photos, it’s also nice to view the less celebrated work of an artist – sort of like stumbling upon a private treasure I might’ve overlooked.
Maybe it’s easy to think about good and best in the context of something artistic, or even something tangible like a photograph, but what about in ourselves?
As you know, I’ve been on a quest to deconstruct and better understand my own perfectionist tendencies and learn how to self-love.
It’s exceedingly difficult, as a perfectionist, to accept anything that seems remotely, even slightly, less than “the ideal.” And if I’m forced into some situation or state in which “the ideal” is simply unachievable – well, I can become very distraught, angry and stubborn. I will fight for a perfect state even when it is unachievable, and bypass all the good, in pursuit. If a superwoman cape isn’t at the ready, well then by God, I will create one out of whatever I can find.
But the question is not, “why can’t I be perfect?”
It’s: “what about the good?”
What about all those days when I accomplish the major tasks on my miles long to-do list?
All the moments when I am emotionally available/accessible to the ones I love?
All the times when I nail a dance pattern?
All the yoga positions I can do without modifications?
All the papers, reports, surveys and projects I’ve completed with thoughtfulness and accuracy?
This reminds me – did I ever tell you what grade I’m the most proud of? It’s my C in Integral Calculus from undergrad.
It’s actually the first of three C’s I’ve ever received in my entire academic career (thus far). The other two C’s were for Managerial and Financial Accounting, and I wouldn’t say I was proud of those C’s, I was more grateful (my brain, for better or worse, was just not designed for the vexation which is Accounting). I just wanted to get through Accounting and move on with my Business coursework.
But that C in Integral Calculus – man, I worked my tail off for that grade. When the semester started I had my sights set on an A, but I’ve always found math a bit less intuitive. So while I had the (albeit, lofty) goal of perfection, I wasn’t unrealistic either. I completed all the assignments, stayed after class with the professor at least twice a week, did all the readings, and even went through the online quiz questions. I didn’t just want to “get through” Integral Calc, I wanted to understand it. And you know, by the end of the semester, I did understand it. Maybe not with ease, I still had to work through problems in detail and take my time, but the major concepts had started to click.
On my transcript, those C’s stand out amongst lots of A’s and B’s. In grad school, one professor who reviewed my undergrad transcripts immediately noticed those “lower grades,” as she called them. But I did not hang my head in shame, I smiled at her. Because there’s a story behind those C’s (the mental hell that was Accounting, and the intense learning process that was Integral Calc), and I am who, and where, I am today, due to those experiences.
I guess that is what acknowledging the best, while noticing the good, is all about.
Best and good don’t have to be enemies. Sometimes good (or technically “average” in the case of a C grade) can be your best.
And while I can always conjure the ideal, the best – maybe there is something even better to be found in the good.