The Flaw In Flawless


Perfectionism should be classified as a disability.

It has blighted more lives than autism, destroyed more potential work than brain damage, stopped more achievement than miss-education. It can devour entire civilizations, and arguably has.

I don’t know how we managed to infect both boys with it, though arguably both of us have it, and also arguably perhaps it’s genetic.  In their case it causes this weird veer between insecurity and what might come across as boastfulness: first by thinking they’re not good enough for even the simplest things, and then by overestimating their competence compared to other people when they figure out that they can in fact do some things. Then they get disabused of that and go back to insecurity.  It’s a hell of a cycle.

I solve it by being permanently trapped in insecurity.

If you’re an artist or even just a “creator” or worker: a writer, an artist, a programmer, a cook, holy heck, even a house cleaner, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

There’s this odd tendency to be more dissatisfied with our work the better we do and then to decide not to do things because, what the heck, it will never be good enough.

The way it blights lives is… interesting.  As in I’ve seen perfectionists utterly ruin themselves by doing nothing.  Oh, you want to write/create/climb your work ladder? But you look at your work and you know you’re not good enough because you can see flaws, so why even try. And then you do nothing. And then… and then you’re 65 and you’ve done nothing and achieved nothing in your life, and it’s a miracle if you came close to supporting yourself. (And the only reason you’ve done so is because you did some job you considered was menial and didn’t matter, so your perfectionism didn’t infect THAT.)

If you’re a true perfectionist, you also never had any relationships. Because even though you’re far from the ideal mate, you judge every potential by tagging up defects.  If you can’t have perfection, why bother.

The very smart are extremely susceptible to this, but everyone can fall into the trap. If you care or know enough about any field, the flaws in your own (and others) work will stand out glaringly and in relief and then you can’t do ANYTHING.

Of course, the more you practice and know the more flaws you see. And it eventually shuts you down.  I catch myself in this trap frequently to the point of being amazed when semi-pro anthos buy my work, because I’m sure it’s the worst thing ever written.  And I can shut myself down for years.  (I’m not alone, I know you know other writers with this problem.)

Which, sorry to bring up Peterson again, but he’s the only person I’ve seen who said this, if you’re by nature creative can make you mentally ill. It can turn you into a depressed zombie.  And the way through it and out of it is NOT to give up the art/work even though that feels like the only way. It makes life worse.

In fact, perfectionism kills. The fact it leaves an animated corpse behind only hides the crime.

And yes, it can kill societies.  There is an age when people can see all the flaws in society but are too young to know what the alternatives are. Also our schools are deliberately not teaching history as it really was, so it’s really hard to know that the alternatives are worse, or that no society was ever perfect, because humans aren’t and every law is a double edged sword that cuts more on the not-intended side.

Throughout most of history that age is called “adolescent” and “young adult.” But in the US it’s called democrat or — in the rest of the west — socialist or communist.

The illusion that you can create a perfect society usually empowers the worst sort of tyrant and brings about hell on Earth. For the recent hit parade see Cuba, Venezuela and soon South Africa. Though frankly it can go back further and it has claimed more than 100000000 victims in the 20th century alone.

And that’s the active perfectionism, the let’s get out on the street and kill everyone who isn’t fully onboard (or send them to camps to die) form of it.

The passive, depressed perfectionism of “I could try something but it would be worse” is the social this and social that of Europe.

For a continent that gave the world innovation (and fire and blood, but those usually are linked) for centuries, they are now reduced to a continent that tries to improve all its little flaws and ends up creating more, and sinks more and more in morass, to the point they have stopped reproducing, are a virtual 3rd age home, and are in the process of being actively invaded by a far worse (in terms of the lives of common people under it, which is the only universal criterium) culture. And think they deserve it.

The problem perfectionism can’t be solved by rational analysis. That only gives the demon of perfectionism another place to attack, this time your character. “You can’t ever be perfect, so why bother?” And deepen the depression.

The only way to get past it is to do.  Just do. Sure, it will never be perfect. The world isn’t perfect.

For a while there, don’t even try “for the best you can.”  You’re wounded, bleeding, and you don’t feel it.

One way you can tell is it infects everything even slightly creative or artisan. Hell, in the depths of this, I can’t even cook.

All you can do is create. Don’t judge it.  If you’re a self-publisher or an artist who sells your work directly, find someone relatively unbiased, or someone who was right about your work in the past, and put them in charge of saying “good enough/not good enough” before it goes for sale.  Even if you think they’re being crazy or incredibly lenient. JUST DO IT. And keep doing it.

Because perfectionism is sterile, dead, and deadly.

Human endeavor, as messy, imperfect and all thumbs as it is, it alive and nurturing. It will keep your mind alive, and the risks you take allow you to have A LIFE, instead of death in life.

Be not afraid.

Too depressed to create, work and do? Why should you be different from the rest of all the all-too-human clay.  Just do it.

Do it through the depression, the tiredness, the meaninglessness.  Do it.  You can only start from where you are now. The longer this goes on, the worse it gets. So, just start.

Does the perfectionism ever let up?  No, not really. But you get used to keeping it in its place, reduced only to spurring your growth, but not interfering with work day to day.  And sometimes looking back at something you created while half-dead with worry and self-loathing, you realize it’s ALMOST perfect and a good thing.  And sometimes people email to tell you how much it meant to them. And sometimes, sometimes, you realize you don’t suck, and it gets marginally, slightly easier.

And sometimes it comes back. A reverse. Bad sales. A truly spectacular bit of bad luck, and there it is, grinning at you with its perfect, gleaming and — you’ll realize — skull like face. And if you let it, it will kill you and destroy everything you have.

Don’t let it.  Nothing mortal is perfect. Don’t even try to make it perfect. You don’t know what is perfect either. You’re just mortal.

Give life a chance. Give yourself a chance to have a life.

Go and do. Create. Work. Do it now, do it today.  What if it sucks? What is sucking? What makes you think you know?

Be not afraid!

236 thoughts on “The Flaw In Flawless

  1. “No book is ever finished. It’s only torn from the hands of the screaming author.”

    I’m glad to say that I’ve rarely experienced perfectionism, and only in small amounts (it can be hard for me to finalize an edited manuscript and send it to the client). But I’ve seen it at work, and it’s every bit as crippling as you describe.

    1. When I submit something to an editor, I refuse to look at it again until it’s been accepted/rejected because I’ll worry about some tiny thing.

      1. It’s well known that all the good writing falls out of your manuscript the minute it’s submitted, leaving the editor nothing to look at but the spastic incoherencies of a babbling idiot.

    2. Same in project development. “No project is ever finished. It’s shipped, instead.”

      Perfectionism only occasionally clobbers me, but when I had a project with a perfectionist designer, I was tempted with a hands-on-throat intervention. FWIW, said designer left the industry for a completely different field. I worried about his future clients, but guessed they’d figure things out right quick.

      1. Yes. When I was doing the project design & programming I started out behind. It got where “Can they break it before they come back to me with requirement changes?” No. Then it was done; besides the faster they got it the less likely scope creep occurred (because that never happened**.) Always was some tweaking as I wound up the next project. Learned real quick, I’m damn good about figuring what users need based on what they say. BUT, I’m a lousy mind reader.

        ** somebody mentioned first aid for bitten tongue?

  2. *Raises a hand*

    Yep, yep and yep.

    And that is also probably one reason why my father’s second wife had such a negative effect on me. Two ways: she kept harping on my failures, both real and imaginary, but even if I could to some extent ignore the imaginary I could not ignore the real. Cue depression.

    And the other way: I thought I should have been able to handle her. Change her behavior. Make her less hostile and reach at least some sort of understanding with her. Because. And the fact that I never did manage to reach her when I spoke with her, no matter how much I tried, I saw that as MY failure.

    As if I never tried hard enough to find the exactly right words to use. Or find the exactly right way to act to pacify her.

    I still have this inner conviction that you really should, SHOULD, be able to resolve conflicts by talking because surely the other side will change their tune at least some once they understand you better and then you should be able to reach some sort of real compromise. Even if I have on the surface level figured out, due to experiences (father’s wife was one big reason, but of course there has been others, and the news…) that if somebody doesn’t want to listen or negotiate you can’t make them, no matter what you try, not by just talking anyway.

    Oh well.

    1. I still have this inner conviction that you really should, SHOULD, be able to resolve conflicts by talking because surely the other side will change their tune at least some once they understand you better …

      Sometimes the other party simply wants you gone, gone, Gone, GONE, GONE.

  3. I saved a Churchill quote that’s related:
    “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.” — Winston Churchill, speaking to the National Book Exhibition in London.

          1. Rodney Atkinson wrote a song to that effect. And then wrote a follow-up because his four year old was singing the one about “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.” The video for that one is particularly adorable.

          2. Some is, some ain’t. Sixteen Tons, now there’s a song what depresses.

            Save a horse, OTOH, offers an important message of benevolence toward our equine companions.

            1. Oddly, while the lyrics of 16 Tons should make it depressing, it doesn’t do that for me. The style mean that while it’s a complaint, it’s not whiny and comes across well. While other tunes which have lyrics that ought to be uplifting, do come across as a whine and are thus depressing and annoying.

              Some time back ESR posted that he found he could (just barely) stand some country, and someone with knowledge of the genre worked out that the thing that really bugged him was the singing in a ‘southern’ or ‘backwoods’ accent by those who did not have it naturally. If it was there own voice, it was at least tolerable. If not, it was torture. I can’t say it’s the same thing for myself.

      1. Heh. But everyone else could see it I guess.

        I’d say it was the problem here at work, but we’ve got folks stuck on unsuitable being “good enough”
        Passable is to be hoped for

        1. Admittedly crude, but gets the point across (well, somewhat):

          “It almost works. That’s good enough.”

          “Think of that when you almost get laid!”

            1. Oh that’s a nasty one, if it then ceases to work. And that, strangely, does seem to happen.

              “Hey, this thing that was working for some time has been having issues…” because when someone noticed it could work, it all stopped. It sounds fantastic, but… strange does happen.

                1. Because I am currently Chaotic Annoyed, please note:
                  Baby’s feeding tube is “Cruel and unusual” per the immigration activists.

                  El Paso has some illegals in custody (Sikhs, and F if I know how that works) who are on a hunger strike, and they first “tortured them with said feeding tubes, and fairly recently stopped out of…respect or something.


                  1. I suppose they prefer the baby starve over the tube.

                    Oh and are the adults the ones protesting? Sure, let them protest, but the baby has no political opinions yet so gets taken in for temporary custody and taken care of.

                    And probably fed well for the first time in it’s life.

                    I got the tube back into her stomach in one go! Minimal whimpering! And most importantly, NO VOMITING EVEN THOUGH SHE’D JUST FED 45 MINUTES AGO!!! I am Supermom! A temporary tape holding it down next to her nose – she is squirming too much atm; wants to sleep.)

                    1. Oh, my. It’s been a semi-rough day over here, and those cheered me right up as it is coming to an end! Thank you.

                      I will ask you to do the world one favor, though. If she keeps those eyes into adulthood, warn her – STRENUOUSLY – to not walk down any crowded public thoroughfares. The number of males walking into traffic, traffic signs, inconveniently placed mailboxes, etc. could disrupt normal business for several blocks.

                    2. *grin* I’m glad that cheered. She’s good for that, especially with those smiles and the twinkle in her eyes…

                      As for her eyes…

                      *Thinks briefly on the scene from the Memoirs of A Geisha movie where the protagonist walks with her eyes demurely cast down, then suddenly looks up and meets the eyes of the delivery boy looking at her. Cue hilarity.*

                      …I can’t make any promises. My mum used to find amusing the chaos* I’d leave in my wake.

                      *glares from other women, and more than one occasion a husband or boyfriend getting pinched by the girlfriend. I’d not notice, as my mind and attention would be ‘okay we’re going to this store now and getting this next’ as I used to stride along, but Mom walked slower, and used to chuckle about it later to me.)

                    3. Thank you! Yep, those eyes! She gets ’em from Daddy, shape and eyelashes and size, though for a while we hoped they’d turn blue from her earlier grey. ^_^ And it looks like she’s inherited his mischievous smile too.

                      And I don’t often update my blog, so no worries XD

      2. [Perfect{ion(ism)}]: It’s just the enemy of human.

        Perfect… is a demon of human invention. Excorise by exercise of that which the demon demands sacrifice.

        1. Every so often I’ll have a day when I comment on a WP blog and… everything vanishes. Then if I log out of WP and come back in, there are all the comments I left, where they ought to be. *shrug* Forget it, JP, this is WordPress.

      1. WP occasionally decides that a post needs to spend some time in limbo before it deigns to post it. On the desktop, if the screen goes to the title section of the essay and stays there, it’s going to be a while. Frequently seconds, but 5 minutes isn’t impossible.

        In short, WordPress Delenda Est.

    1. Variant I learned was never give up the good for the perfect; i.e. it is pointless to try to be perfect, because it is impossible to achieve perfection, and simply striving to be good is good enough.

  4. I guess I’m lucky–I haven’t been burdened by perfectionism in my life. Oh, I do try to do my best in everything I do, and to learn from my mistakes when I need to do something (or something similar) again. But If I did the job adequately and acceptably, I’m happy with it. Is it perfect? Nope. Does it work? Yup. Good enough for me, and the next one will be better!

    1. Likewise.
      I was never a perfect student during my school days, so “just good enough to pass” never really bothered me, and in fact has helped me in the years since. I’ve learned to spot what the essential thing is, and just do that without excess busywork or non-essentials.
      I’m also not especially bothered by failure. I’ve got shelves full of failed guitar effects & tube amp circuits I’ve built that didn’t work, or work as well as I wanted them to. Into the salvage drawer with them, and I’ll reuse the components for something else.

      1. Ah, kinda like Mr. Edison who went through so many tries (The HELL ‘there is no try.’!) at filament materials. As he supposedly said, he then knew many ways not to do it.

        1. Phonograph, OTOH, worked the first time.

          He observed he was afraid of things that worked right the first time. A sentiment I have cited many times in the programming world.

          1. Nod.

            I was a good programmer (COBOL batch programming) but I got nervous if I got a clean compile (no language bugs, etc) the first time.

            I just “knew” there would problems when I tested the program. 😉

            Mind you, sometimes the testing (good testing if I say so) didn’t reveal any problems. :whew:

            1. Mind you, sometimes the testing (good testing if I say so) didn’t reveal any problems. :whew:

              Every so often even the best of us will screw up and get it right the first time.

          2. The phonograph was inspired by a telegraph recorder setup that wasn’t working right. Something went amiss and the playback was too fast… or so I’ve read. This lead to some thought that lead to the phonograph.

            1. Ergo the Phonograph was adaptation of existing technology while the light bulb was development on new technology?

              1. Even the light bulb wasn’t new. Moses Farmer had platinum filament bulbs as early at 1859 and the first electrically lit house. He did have a light bulb patent, which Edison bought.

        2. I’ve heard the “do or do not: there is no try” explained as more a warning against doing what the immature are wot to do- putting in the slightest effort with the intention of failure, so they could say “I tried!”.
          Luke failed because he didn’t actually put his heart into it.

          1. I keep seeing that explanation, but I also keep seeing the line used badly out of context. And this is one SW movie I actually saw in the theater and I found the line annoying even then, as it wasn’t as clear as it should have been.

            [I do think the fellow behind the SW franchise might have messed up a Golden Opportunity. Recall ‘the Star Wars kid’ who got flack for playing around and someone recorded, then distributed, the playing that a lot of kids since 1977 have done? Wouldn’t it have been a fantastic, “Well, then..” to have said ‘kid’ be in a flashback scene as the one teaching Yoda technique or sparring with him? Though for all I know perhaps the idea was there was the ‘kid’ (or his folks/lawyers) rejected it.]

    2. I’m almost always OK with what I’ve written, and kicking it out there as soon as it’s done. Very often, when I come back to something I’ve written long enough ago to have nearly forgotten it, I am very please with just how good it reads.
      I’ve read of those writers (and poets, most especially) who have gotten so hung up on the perfect word, sentence and rhyme that they never manage to finish anything. Which was, I think, the point of our Esteemed Hostess.

      Maybe because I came at this writing thing through blogging? Kick it out there, regularly, as soon as you are done with checking for spelling. None of this fannying about for weeks, constructing the perfect sentence …

      1. Excellence is an attainable goal, and by practicing it one can approach perfection. Perfection is an unattainable goal and by seeking it you sacrifice excellence.

  5. “you want to write/create/climb your work ladder? But you look at your work and you know you’re not good enough because you can see flaws, so why even try. And then you do nothing.”

    This ^. 100 times. I have tried to walk away from writing but the blasted voices keep dragging me back. I know that nothing I do will ever get published, I am not good enough. But those blasted voices won’t shut up.

    So I plink around. Write little snippets or play with fanfiction, sometimes I even managed to finish a piece. If I like it, I toss it up on my blog. If I look at it and sigh “nothing really happens”, it vanishes into a folder on the hard drive to be forgotten until I open it up and pour salt on the “not good enough” wound.

    I guess part of me just doesn’t want to give up – at least not yet.

    1. Stop piddling. Outline a novel. Set a goal of four novels a year. They’ll suck, maybe, so what? If you’re that scared use a pen name. Beware of using Ima Nidiot, though. Miss Nidiot might become a bestseller. And wouldn’t you have egg on your face?

      1. *blush* my sister and I did a novel a few years ago. Got rejected by two publishers. We’ve discussed indie pubbing, but wanted a second book at least half way done first and then promptly got stalled on the second book trying to work out how to link sub-plots. Which set up round who-knows of “not good enough”.

              1. Kate Paulk, if she ever gets a moment free, started a project about the Teutonic Order in space. Let’s say, by the time they get back to Earth, things are a little different from the 1300s…

      2. Any even casual consideration of the history of the book buying public should convince a body that perfection is an irrelevancy. A look at the crap which has cluttered best-seller lists … and contemplation of excellent works which have disappeared unnoticed … ought make you wonder whether even “write better than that” is a desirable goal.

        As for pen names, Stanley Lieber planned to write literature under his name, so on his day job he signed his work as Stan Lee.

  6. Reminds me of a yearbook quote from one of my friends:

    “Never try, never do.
    Never fail, never succeed.”

  7. I lost a student from one of my classes because she couldn’t handle the idea that “Imperfect and on-time is better than perfect and late.” Her idea of perfect made sure that what she turned in was so late that half the grade value was gone.

    That’s a lesson that I still struggle with, but I made sure to teach it to my students, because otherwise they’d never get anything done…

    1. First you make it.
      Then you make it work.
      Only then worry about making it pretty.
      If that’s a ‘Law’ of something, it ought to be.

      One the supposed advantages of Forth or of ‘agile’ programming is fast iteration: Make it. Test it. Fix it. Test it. Fix it. etc. But make sure there IS an exit to the loop. They main thing is: The first one… won’t be very good. But that lead to a line I saw years ago about programming, which was approximately: “Don’t be afraid to throw one away; You’re going to do that anyway.”

      The Wright brothers did not built a jumbo jet. They didn’t even build DC-3. They built something that just barely crawled into the air… but they built it!

      1. I’m one of those people that has to “do something”. I can’t just sit & watch TV. Must do something with my hands or read (which then the TV or radio are back ground). Even as I type this the Voice is running on DVD.

        For awhile I did crafts: knitting, crochet, macrame, embroidery, cross stitch, quilting, etc. ALL, every project, I’ve ever done, has at least one flaw in it. I could never sell anything or take commissions; I knew there’d be flaws. I could give away. Or if I’d made something & someone offered to pay for it, then & there, yes I could sell it. But never could offer it UP for sell.

        The only thing I still do of the above is read for fun. Everything else fell because of the programming. Which I’ve always approached more from a creative & intuitive side VS the mathematical. There were other reasons, but programming stole that creative side.

        Perfection is the enemy of programming. If you have to have a perfect program, you don’t deliver anything. I’ve seen* that. I learned to over come it. I fought that every section of code. I learned how to work around it. I learned to redefine programming & perfection. One** Perfection in programming is DELIVERING the product that works for the client, better than the client’s definition of perfection; BUT not to mine.

        * Saw it in at least 2 projects in a programmer who in 15 years has yet to deliver one specific project; and another it’s been 5 & counting (is being eased out of the job). The programmer in question has delivered other projects. The ones I directly interacted with him on, I had to be there working with him on them to get what I needed in a timely fashion; or repeatably checking in. Constantly rejecting the “can’t do that”, “that is not needed”, “shouldn’t be doing that”, with “Program is already doing this.” “This is where it is used.” “This is why it will NOT be going away.” “These are the clients that use this & WILL scream if it goes missing.” Etc. My response was “Okay. But, needed. How do we implement it properly within the framework we have.”

        (Grin) What I learned working with him. Not only was our definition of final perfection different our definition of proper implementation perfection was different. Apparently my name has been taken in vain more than a few times after I retired. He figured out my reasoning, & understands it, but from what I’ve heard from others (they think it is hilarious), he severely disagrees with it.

        Part of MY definition of programming perfection are “what makes it easier to figure out how to change code later, because code WILL change.”**(Within the company coding standards.) When you are the one creating the coding standard for a new process, you have a LOT more impact; not carte blanch exactly, but way more flexibility. If it wasn’t to HIS standards then he should have paid more attention (yes, would have argued). FWIW, what I did is well within the realm of proper coding standards both professionally & within that company. Plus the person who actually does most of the changes behind me, now, agrees the code is easy to change.

        ** I’ve programmed behind someone whose code was tight & brilliant. Where my response was “Okay. Now how do I change the bloody thing?” Implied “Without breaking it?”

        1. For years I was involved in the creation of onboard crew procedures for astronauts. Very early on we came to the realization that while it was barely possible to idiot proof procedures for idiots, it was damn near impossible to idiot proof procedures for clever people like astronauts. Especially for hot shot pilot types who make up a fair percentage of the astronaut corps.
          So you do the best you can and have several layers of contingency plans on standby for when someone very cleverly attempts to insert a round tapered module into a round tapered hole, backwards, then tries to force it with a few aggressive taps with a hammer. Not that this would ever possibly happen of course. Excuse me, but what’s the best treatment for a bitten tongue?

          1. Early ’90s I was not only programming but dealing with hardware & hardware upgrades. So, I got to go to a hardware seminar … First questions the group was asked were 1) Who had worked on hardware already? Response – Everyone. 2) Who had broken hardware when adding cards, memory (before memory sticks), etc? Response – Everyone except two people (the two women in the class). Instructor asked us why. We both responded with “If it isn’t slotting easy, it isn’t aligned correctly. Forcing it isn’t going to work.” That was the instructors point. His second point was women who took the seminar always got that point immediately; if they hadn’t come to that conclusion before they got there.

            1. His second point was women who took the seminar always got that point [`If it isn’t slotting easy, it isn’t aligned correctly. Forcing it isn’t going to work.`] immediately

              Nowadays he would be hauled up on charges of sexual harassment so hard and fast there would be an implosion from the air filling the space he has filled.

          2. “Very early on we came to the realization that while it was barely possible to idiot proof procedures for idiots, it was damn near impossible to idiot proof procedures for clever people like astronauts. ”

            Somewhere, many years ago, I heard the following line and instantly made it one of my top Rules of Programming: “You can’t make anything foolproof, because fools are too damned ingenious. Fool-resistant is the best you can do.”

            Words to live by.

            As for perfectionism — I resemble Sarah’s description far, far more than I care to admit. The only things I ever accept as “good enough” are the things that other people tell me are “wow, that’s great!” Some of my photographs, a few of my nonfiction writings, that sort of thing. But in twenty-odd years of trying to write fiction I haven’t finished a single piece. I get scattershot images, but assembling them into a complete, coherent story is beyond me.

            1. “Programming today is a race between software engineers striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs, and the Universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots. So far, the Universe is winning.”

              ― Rick Cook, The Wizardry Compiled

            2. Wolfwalker wrote: op Rules of Programming: “You can’t make anything foolproof, because fools are too damned ingenious. Fool-resistant is the best you can do.”

              Preach it!!!!! 100% true. Add: “Try making it foolproof can make it unusable. You will discover a fool who can beak it.”

          1. I used to work with a couple devices that need the odd (sometimes very odd) software modification. One was obvious made by someone who swallowed the CompSci lines hook, line, sinker, boat, and trolling motor. It was a pain, to put it mildly. Another was no so much designed as cobbled from something made by someone who had some clue but hadn’t swallowed everything. It was a rather a mess due to the… sub-optimal… adaptation. But it was easier to work on. And I didn’t feel like my changes hurt anything. Some of them might have improved things.

            1. Also from the same channel: “What the hell? What is ‘if you don’t know what this means then you’re not supposed to’ – who wrote this shit?”

              Me: “I believe you said you did.”

              “I hate past me. I’m sure I had a good reason for being a dick to myself there but I can’t remember what right now. WHICH HELPS ME NOT AT ALL.”

              (I honestly don’t understand 98% of what they talk about, but apparently I’m good to rant along to. My old clan channels were fun.)

      2. Hell, that’s the method of 90% of the engineers, inventors, and mechanics throughout history.

      3. Orvan, that “plan to throw one away” is from Brooks’ Mythical Man Month. It was written the year I was born and remains perfectly relevant for current IT.

    2. Some years ago an older teacher warned me to look out for a certain kind of student. They will eventually have a breakdown of some kind because 1) everything must be perfect the first time and 2) even if they don’t know how to do it, it must be perfect the first time. The other teacher had gotten a note from the parents because the student had stayed up until 2:00 AM trying to figure out what an upcoming assignment would require, even though none of the other students knew either (it was a very odd sort of essay for an AP/Achievement-type test.) The student almost collapsed because they had to get a perfect score, but they didn’t know how to get the perfect score, but they had to get the perfect score…

      1. Happily, that student got some help and learned to step back, breathe, and accept that a 90% was not the end of the world. But it was rough reaching that point. I’ve not seen anything on that scale, but milder cases are not rare, especially in some cultural groups.

                    1. This is 21st Century America – you are what you think. Genetics are an illusion, a tool of the Patriarchy.

          1. I have to admin, when I saw the big yellow “VD” on that cover, my first thought wasn’t “Valentine’s Day”…

      2. Yeah, I know someone who had a fullscale fetal-on-the-couch style breakdown at his work, because he couldn’t be SEEN being imperfect. Wasn’t the inability to achieve perfect that bothered him; it was being CAUGHT and OUTED as imperfect, which in his mind equated to total tits-up failure. The embarrassment and fear of censure, that was the real problem, and when it broke him, he shattered. He became ‘disabled’ and was never able to hold another job, purely to avoid repeating his ‘failure’.

        Won’t go into how it impacted other parts of his life, but it’s a terrible way to live. “Good enough” is a whole lot more agreeable, not to mention more practical.

        1. I’m so sorry to hear about this man. What does he do these days?

          Thank you for telling me about someone who suffered worse than I did. It took me 10 years and a couple ghostwriters but I did actually graduate college.

      3. They will eventually have a breakdown of some kind because 1) everything must be perfect the first time and 2) even if they don’t know how to do it, it must be perfect the first time.

        Yup. That’s exactly what happened to this student.

        It was a beginning drafting class, of course they’re not going to know how to do it.

        But the student kept starting over because something was wrong, and started over with a clean sheet of paper instead of re-tracing what was right, and, and, and.

        I kind of hope that she quit college to work for year, actually, because you cannot be that fragile in this discipline.

      4. I wonder if there’s a cause & effect correlation between the perfect student teacher’s pets in early schooling, and the entitled slacker millennial types who want the government to make everything perfect for them right now, regardless of cost?

        1. At a guess, only if it’s induced.

          There are some things where I cannot be less than “perfect.”

          One of them is in calibration, and I could dig up and email you the names for WHY I cannot be less than “perfect”.

          The other is in art, and that’s because I was rather mercilessly taunted about my lack of skill, internalized it, and still have a heck of a time doing more than stick figures unless something bypasses my “I am trying to make a picture” circuit.

          Given both the low level evil I watched on the part of some teachers and students, and the twitch-factor I’ve seen in media featured Millennials, I think we’re mostly looking at abuse victims.

          1. Clarifying:
            I could dig up the names, because they are dead.

            They died because some asshole decided his time was more important than correctly calibrating the machine that tested if the altimeter for a helo was correct, and they died.

            All of them, in Iraq, because SOMEONE WAS LAZY.

            I hauled their gear out of the storage unit– it was soaked, by the way, and had molded– so they could go through it to find stuff to send home.

            About a year later I totally flipped out at the Marine who tried to pencil whip the altimeter machine…. (they are a total pain, and go bad at the drop of a hat; that’s why they have insanely low calibration periods)

            1. OK, taking nothing at all away from your experience and your righteous and fully justified subsequent stomping of the pencil-whipping Marine you discovered mid-whip:

              Yes, those machines are a pain, and yes, if they are farked up they can kill people, but to be fair, bottom line you don’t have to get them perfect, you have to get them in spec.

              Yes, it is a tight specification, and yes, getting the damn box to within the spec can be a royal pain, but “plus-or-minus-X” is not “plus-or-minus-zero-to-ninety-decimals”, and the failure to even try to get the box close to spec is someones decision to shortchange the users down along the future accident causal chain.

              As someone who on occasion flies things up in the aether, I don’t care if the altimeter test box that was used at the last check on my air vehicle happens to be precisely exactly in the center of the required specification, but I care a lot if it’s outside that spec.

              1. I consider “inside of the acceptable range” to be requiring perfection.

                He considered being upset that it was more than three times the range out of that spec to be an irrational degree of perfection.

                1. I think this falls within the “Excellence vs. Perfection” point from Res, which can be found upthread.

          2. Certainly 90% of my kids’ teachers were abusive bastards making the kids more responsible than they were, etc. Seriously, they wanted kindergartners doing things two weeks in advance and ridiculous shit like that. I kept trying to tell them kids didn’t work that way.

            1. If a kid is afraid of messing up a perfect academic record, they’re going to be less willing to challenge teachers, or look for alternate answers, or actually experiment with non-approved ways of doing things- and will just generally stick to stuff they are pretty much guaranteed to win.

              Which is why I think you see very few successful entrepreneurs who were the good kid, straight A student types. Like Nobby Nobbs, they’ve failed so much that they’re not afraid of it.

      5. 1) everything must be perfect the first time and 2) even if they don’t know how to do it, it must be perfect the first time

        About halfway through busting our eldest out of that.

    3. I have the series of books, Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking. Beyond a pretty good way to do dovetail joints, I think the most important bit of his teaching is how to recover from minor-ish mistakes. (If the drawer is 1″ wider than the carcase, that’s not minor. But if the joint has a small gap, careful tapping with a hammer will close it up by deforming the woodgrain. Usually.)

      Figuring out how to translate this to writing and other creative endeavors will be left to the student. 🙂

      1. Julia Child accidently miss flipping a dish all over the stove, scraping it back into the pan. “Who’s going to know?” She was always good to point out cooking mistakes happen, and the only thing important is ‘Is the food tasty’ in the end.

  8. I am *deeply* afflicted by this. It can be debilitating. It has caused tremendous damage to my life, starting from when I was a little child.

    I don’t do the “swinging to overconfidence” thing Sarah describes, though. I tend to stay on the “I’m an idiot” side.

    All should read. This afflicts societies as well, In fact, I would argue that Socialism/Communism itself is the result of a perfectionist delusion: that humans are both current terrible AND perfectable if the Proper Measures are employed. Even though Socialism may be carried by anyone, it is, and always has been, *created* exclusively by perfectionists.

  9. My guess is, and I’m being serious, that I achieved maybe 10% of what I could have, given the abilities I was born with. Not bragging or complaining, just saying that this, like depression (and maybe it’s linked to depression), is also a silent killer.

    1. Preach it brother! Most important thing I learned is to keep on going. If you keep on going you’ll eventually make it. If you stop nothing happens.

      This advice is from someone who got stuck. At one point cheating was the only way I got to the end. (Got a ghostwriter.) I’m still stuck today. I still don’t persist. Worse, I don’t even try.

  10. The proper paradigm is apply principles of mass production: perfection is not the goal, product within limits of tolerance is sufficient. Nobody is paying you for perfection, anyway, they just want zero rejections.

    Perfection in art is impossible, anyway, as there is no applicable definition of the word. Even what seems perfect today will reveal flaws a year from now.

    Which is why I no longer maintain perfection. It was annoying all around me incapable of maintaining my standard.

    As if it were my fault they aren’t wallabies.

      1. Exactly. One of the primary challenges of US industry in WWII was getting the production line running even though engineers were constantly developing “improvements.” I am sure guys in foxholes on Guadalcanal were more interested in a working machine gun TODAY than an improved one — 10% greater rate of fire, 5% lighter — in a month or two.

        The Japanese, OTOH,probably would have voted that the Marines wait for the improved version. Nobody likes being shot with a crappy weapon.

        1. Part of Knudson’s genus was figuring out how to get up to date gear without having to shut down and retool the lines far too often.
          The solution was the modification center. Just build the thing on the line, and put in the latest stuff later.
          So our pilots had cutting edge fighters, while most Axis were stuck with the same planes they started the war with.

          1. Of course, bombing their aircraft plants helped, even when it was hit or miss. 3-500 or more bombers over a target area, some are gonna cause damage.

            1. There’s more to it then just allied bombing. The Japanese weren’t really bombed until 1945, yet they could never build anything better than the Zero.
              The Germans did a bit better in the development race, but were still mostly stuck with obsolescent designs like the ME-109.

              1. I recently listened to an audiobook of various nuclear incidents and strange stories. One chapter was about the Japanese atomic programs (they had two) and how one person knew uranium hexafluoride would be needed. But being careful of reputation, avoided seeking outside assistance when needed. Eventually, after a year he produced a bit of the stuff. The Manhattan Project folks didn’t quibble about such and just wanted to get things done. They supposedly went from nothing to something… in 36 minutes.

              2. The Germans never bothered to produce a strategic 4-engined bomber; they thought they’d have Britain clobbered in no time.

                The Zero was great, but it got its performance by skipping details like armor and self-sealing gas tanks. (The Betty bomber had the same problem, and acquired a nickname of “the Ronson”, a cigarette lighter of the time.)

                1. That would mostly be because the German officer corps wasn’t thinking about attacking Britain or even Russia; they were focussing on quick campaigns so as not to get into trench warfare, against nearby opponents like France and Poland. They understood that they didn’t have the resources for a long war of attrition.

                  The problem is that Hitler kept getting lucky, and so he ended up being overextended, and opening the war 4-5 years earlier than his generals had envisioned.

              3. Well, they did develop an operational jet fighter. Re perfectionism: while the German approach to the jet engine (axial compressor) was technically superior from a performance standpoint to the British approach (centrifugal compressor), it was harder to manufacture and probably less-robust operationally.

                So maybe in this case, perfectionism–by the enemy–saved a lot of Allied lives.

              4. Actually, the Bf-109G, the last major mark of the Bf-109, was a very good fighter, able to hold its own one-on-one against almost any Allied fighter. And its pal the FW-190 was better still. The European air war was a horse-race from beginning to end, with both sides producing new and better models every few months. Compare a Spitfire I to a Spitfire XIV, or an Bf-109G to a Bf-109E, and the only thing they have in common is the general shape. What really killed the Luftwaffe was Allied production: the Allies could simply build fighters and train pilots for them faster than the Germans could. The way that stupid Adolf demanded that resources be diverted to his “terror weapons” didn’t help them. Neither did the fact that stupid Adolf ordered a halt to a lot of weapons research in 1942 because “such things would not be needed after the war.” Add the fact that Allied fighter pilots in general were getting more experienced at the same time the Germans on average were getting less experienced, and… well, nobody can win against those kind of odds.

              5. That would be because Goering put one of his old Richthofen’s Flying Circus cronies, Ernst Udet, in as the head of Luftwaffe R&D. Let’s just say he wasn’t the ideal choice…….

        2. The Japanese Zero was a much superior plane than what the US had available. OTOH, being able to use what we had at the time kept us going, until we came up with Zero killing aircraft and techniques to use them. (Wiping out most of their carriers and top quality pilots at the battle of Midway certainly helped.) Some of that effort took some woefully inadequate torpedo bombers and some pretty good dive bombers, and some great luck/planning. Miracle at Midway gets into the details.

          The US also had some lousy torpedoes (various reasons, including a snafu that had the depth control off systematically), but we had a lot of torpedoes and ways to launch them.

          1. The US Navy would rotate experienced pilots back as training carde- the new trainees would get up to date instruction on tactics, and we kept a solid core of good personnel.
            The Japanese kept their experience pilots on the line, and suffered for it.

          2. we had a lot of torpedoes and ways to launch them.

            “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

            “The general principle that quantity begets quality is a key tenet of the Marxist theory of dialectical materialism, as formulated by Marx and Engels, phrased as the law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes. This in turn is attributed to Hegel (Science of Logic), who in turn attributes it to Ancient Greek philosophers, notably the paradox of the heap Eubulides: a quantitative change in the number of grains of sand leads to a qualitative change in being a heap or not. While Marx and Engels are quoted by various Marxist and communist authors, including Stalin, this formulation is not found in their work or in English translation.”

            1. I take the quality/quantity bit to mean that if you have one really good weapons in place, versus a half-dozen second-rate ones, it’s not clear that the top-notch wielder will win.

              Note, at the beginning of the war, our torpedoes might not have been up to second-rate standards, but in the case of Midway, the Japanese couldn’t count on their failure. Thus, their fighters were busy at low level, leaving our dive bombers a clear path. The fact that there were a bunch of aircraft in the midst of refueling mid-battle was a bonus. (USN doctrine was to drain the fuel lines when combat ensued. The Japanese didn’t use that. Oops.)

              1. “I take the quality/quantity bit to mean that if you have one really good weapons in place, versus a half-dozen second-rate ones, it’s not clear that the top-notch wielder will win.”

                Which, again, is generally what happened to the German tank corps, against both the Allies and the Russians. It was not uncommon to see half a dozen Allied tanks / Russian tanks stacked up around one German Tiger or Panther; Eventually the German would be flanked, or sustain cumulative damage, or run out of fuel or ammo, or have a mechanical failure, and that would be that.

              2. The IJN had to honor the threat of aerial torpedo plane attacks – they did not have sufficient (any?) intel on the disaster that was the pre-war US torpedo design story that would allow them to ignore the torpedo planes at Midway, and institutionally I would be astonished if that would have even been possible given what IJN aerial torpedoes had been proven capable of doing at Coral Sea.

                I think doctrine almost always gets formulated based on your own sides capabilities just because you know them best, and the IJN aerial torpedo was pretty darn good, so IJN doctrine was to honor that threat.

                Now the IJN doctrine on carrier strike logistics and real-time planning just plain sucked, or at least IJN doctrine as it was implemented in Nagumo’s mind, with the result that they did a rearm-rearm-rearm dance with their strike based on each little piece of intel. That reportedly left splodey-stuff piled about on the hangar deck just when the USN dive bombers finally showed up, and then their failure to procedurally purge the aircraft fueling plumbing throughout the ship when at battle stations, unlike USN practice, came into play.

          3. “we had a lot of torpedoes and ways to launch them.”

            OMGhu, the story of American torpedoes in WW2 is truly horrifying to read. Launching lots of torpedoes only leads to more failures when the rate of failure is nearly 100%. American carrier-based torpedo-bombing never really recovered from the twin disasters of Midway and the Mark 13; in 1943-45, TBF/TBM Avengers were used more as level bombers than as torpedo bombers. And American subs were as effective as they were in 1944-45 only because ComSubPac was Admiral Charles Lockwood, who demanded that BuOrd fix the torpedoes and kicked ass until they did so.

            1. As I recall, one of the issues was that the depth setting was calibrated in water that was the wrong salinity (ie, density), so that the torpedoes would go too deeply under the targets. And then, the fusing was bad.

              As above, the good thing at Midway was that the Japanese could/would not ignore the torpedo bombers, so that the slow but effective dive bombers had a clear shot while the defense was preoccupied at low level.

              1. That and the damn exploders. Politically, the masters of all things torpedoes at NTS Newport could not possibly admit that all the failures that the Sub crews in the Pacific were reporting were correct (torpedoes exploding just after launch, torpedoes circling back around at the launching sub, torpedoes not exploding when they ran right under the keel of a target with the magnetic exploder properly enabled, torpedoes failing to explode with direct hits, some left hanging out of the targets hull, as well as the depth keeping problem).

                So it must be user error – sub crews trying to blame the torpedoes for their failures.

                But torpedoes were expensive, and back during the Depression when the Mark 14 was being developed the USN didn’t want to pay for any live fire tests. So the shots against the Japanese were the first live shots, and the damn things didn’t work, whether they were trying for a magnetically-exploded shot under the keel, or a direct-hit into the side of the target.

                The saga of fixing the WWII Mark 14 USN Submarine torpedo is really a classic case study in how to build multiple failures into a design through lack of testing.

                1. The torpedo depth-keeping mechanism was defective, the steering system was defective, the exploders were defective… and on top of all that, the combat Mark 14 torpedo warhead was significantly larger and heavier than the exercise warheads used in peacetime, which made the torpedo run even deeper and probably also affected steering, and perhaps the contact exploder too.

                  As I said: truly horrifying.

                  1. And the actual WARHEADS, while heavy weren’t heavy enough because they were relying on the magnetic exploder to set it off under the keel. Japanese sub and air torpedoes carried 763 lb warheads vs our 500 lb; the surface ship Long Lance carried 1000 lbs.

          4. There’s a very good Japanese animated film, ‘The Wind Rises’, about Zero designer Jiro Horikoshi. Not very historically or biographically accurate, but visually impressive and very much worth seeing. For comparison, read Horikoshi’s own memoir, “Eagles of Mitsubishi’.

          5. While Miracle at Midway was an important book (it was one of the first to try to deal with the thoughts of both sides), it was written in 1982, and a lot of later research came up with significant errors.

            The key book that revitalized all of the understandings of Midway was Shattered Sword by Parshall and Tully, which came out in 2005. It documented what many of the past errors are, and really did a brilliant job of explaining the battle, and the reasons for the results. And the chapter “The Myths and Mythmakers of Midway” is really brilliantly done.

            And it’s an easy read — well written and detailed.

            1. Concur – Shattered Sword is a great read.

              Two more for after that: And I Was There and Joe Rochefort’s War.

              1. Thanks, folks! Just wrote the recommendations, and will see what it takes to get these.

                The various codebreaking efforts during the war have been an interest. JRW will be a priority, though Shattered Sword should be first.

                FWIW, Dad was with the 8th Air Force on Okinawa, and the tale he told of the history of Bock’s Car was, er, interesting. I think it was more a tribute to the garbling that happens on base than anything else. (No, the plane did not fly through the mushroom cloud, and thus had to be ditched at sea. OTOH, I recall reading of a Japanese crew managing to fly through one of the clouds, with the expected aftereffects.)

                1. If you haven’t already read it, I also recommend Incredible Victory by Walter Lord. It’s outdated now because Lord relied on Mitsuo Fuchida’s account for the Japanese side of the battle – an account now known to contain several critical lies – but Lord’s writing style makes the battle come to life in a way that none of the other Midway books that I’ve read do. IMHO, Incredible Victory and Shattered Sword together are the top accounts of Midway for American readers. (There’s also a couple of well-done accounts in Japanese – Shattered Sword contains references to them – but as far as I know none have ever been translated into English, so I’ve never read them.)

                2. The Layton book is HB, at least through Amazon, while the other two are on Kindle around $15 each. I need to defer book purchases for a while for domestic tranquility’s sake, but will probably get the Kindle copies.

                  Have to navigate the county library system to see if I can read Layton’s book.

              2. Much of the older histories have had to be significantly revised (primarily with respect to intelligence-derived activities) over recent decades, as the various countries involved have declassified their WW2-era materials. And that’s happened at different schedules in different countries.

                The Layton and Rochefort books couldn’t have been published until well after the war, and are able to give a perspective on what really happened that clarifies a lot of activities.

                1. Truth there! One of the most interesting books in my library is an item called The Tenth Fleet, by Ladislas Farago. It’s about (what else?) the Tenth Fleet of the USN, which was the center of the US Navy’s anti-U-boat operations in the Atlantic. What’s interesting about it is that it was published in 1962 – LONG before the various codebreaking operations were declassified, ten years before F.W. Winterbotham broke the law by writing The Ultra Secret. Farago only used unclassified sources, so his book doesn’t contain a single hint of the Allies’ ability to read the U-boat ciphers. Reading it now, with full knowledge of Ultra, it seems manifestly ridiculous that anyone could possibly have believed the various cover stories that were devised to try and cover-up Ultra’s existence.

                  1. I have a collection of WW-II histories, and one of those got into the breaking of Ultra. As I recall, the Luftwaffe had a bad tendency to leave the same message header on its encrypted weather reports. This gave a niche for the Bletchley Park people to start with. Not sure which book(s?); I think I have a couple dozen covering the war and related subjects.

                    1. If you read the British official WW2 Intelligence (F. H. Hinsley, edited) volumes, there’s a significant set of changes. The first 5 books (4 “volumes”, but volume 3 came out as two books) were are pre-1980. Volume 5 (6th book) came out in 1989, but with a preface that says it was written in 1980, and could only be somewhat revised to take advantage of the new material that had become available. But there’s a one-volume “Abridged” edition (they took out a lot of the administrative details, and talked more about what was actually done) came out in 1993, revised in 1994, and is really the one to read, since it has so much more correct information (although less about the administrative details that really didn’t make much difference).

                      I don’t know if they’re still in print, since the official publisher, HMSO, was reorganized by the British Government a few years after the last volume was published. But they’re available used (although the Abridged doesn’t seem to have an ebook version available in the US — it does exist on, but only if you don’t have a US address).

                    2. Sounds about right. I also have several such books. My two favorites are CODE BREAKERS: THE INSIDE STORY OF BLETCHLEY PARK, a collection of short pieces from some of the personnel at B.P. about how the place worked; and VERY SPECIAL INTELLIGENCE, which is mainly about how the Ultra information was used by the Royal Navy on the battlefield.

                    3. addendum: IMHO, VERY SPECIAL INTELLIGENCE (author Patrick Beesly) is one of the few books that every serious student of WW2 should read, regardless of which aspects they’re interested in. Completely fascinating, and it deals with an aspect of military operations that just doesn’t get that much publicity, yet is essential to victory.

  11. And then there are those who insist on perfection or nothing in others because they KNOW that nothing will ever be perfect, deliberately and with malice aforethought dealing dirty because they know (even if they won’t admit it aloud) that their position will fail in an honest exchange of ideas.

    (Posting from work so not at the computer with the WP login info saved.)

  12. It’s like you’re in my head. I failed at nanowrimo (twice now) because the “middle part” of my stories are never good enough. I’m a pantser (I’ve tried plotting, doesn’t work for me), and I almost always like my opening chapter. And I (almost) always know how the ending should go. I tend to have the ending in mind when I write the opener. But it’s that middle part that just kills me. Getting the characters from here to there without boring everyone to tears. It’s always full of suck and fail. So, even my nanowrimo story, which nobody but me would ever have to read, so should be no pressure, gets bogged down.

    Then I quit, because why go on? Then I hate myself for being a big fat quitter.

    My last story, I had a friend read everything up until the point I quit. He loved it. “There are so many places the story could go from here! I WANT to read it when you get it done!” I think he was even actually being serious. But, months later, not another word has been written, because I can’t seem to find the right direction. Every time I think about what’s next, it’s just not good enough.

    Sorry, I’ll stop ranting now.

    1. I have never tried the official nanowrimo because I know that I cannot meet the word count. Why start what I know I will fail, right? I have done a modified, unofficial, version back when we did the novel. Still missed the count, but for once I was okay with it.

      Writing what I call bridge scenes, the ones that move from plot point B to point C are the hard parts for me. I want to jump right to the “fun” scenes, but I need the bridge to explain why point D happens. Someone told me that is okay to jot out your “fun” scenes, and leave a block for the bridges, maybe you can try that approach? Go ahead and do the opening and ending then weave a middle. (Or think of it like a shooting a movie. You know they shoot the scenes out of order.)

      1. The one time I exceeded the word goal was when I wasn’t trying. A friend and I were doing a pass-back-and-forth story (essentially roleplaying, via text, fan-verse fiction) as a de-stress thing for a while and hit over 50k words. It’s not really something that can get the serial numbers filed off and repurposed as original though.

        1. For the first few days of nano, I usually exceed my word count each day, so far, it’s into the second week or start of the third that I really start to have problems. About the time my characters stop telling me what to do and start getting lazy.

  13. In a very real sense, perfectionism ruined colonialism. No, colonialism wasn’t perfect. The British were not too bad, and the French had their moments, but the Dutch were swine. We in the US never really got enough under our belts to know if we were any good.

    But the anti-colonials (Progressives, of course) were SURE that local rule would be PERFECT.

    On what evidence, I have NO idea. So many lands that were slouching toward some degree of civilization got abandoned, and whole contnents are overrun with barbarians. What is usual in Africa is arguably WORSE than the warring tribes that were there when the Colonialists arrived.

    Too bad nobody has the right character to restart the Colonial era.

    1. “On what evidence, I have NO idea.” COME, now; they don’t NEED evidence because they KNOW IT ALL. Because, SMART is their middle name (also, first and last, and III, IV, V, VI, ETC.)

    2. Too bad nobody has the right character to restart the Colonial era.

      Pish-tosh, dear fellow, the Progressives intend to bring it back for ALL of us, with them as the Colonial governors and us as the poor, rude, benighted souls who must be led to civilization.

      Tush, ’tis as obvious as that overly warm sun in the sky.

      “You try. You do it. Cuz you’re not. Cuz you’re not. So, until you do it, I’m the boss.’ How about that?” – @AOC on her Green New Deal.

      1. Then we really need to invite them (at spearpoint as necessary) to go to some benighted cess pit (South Africa springs to mind) and do a proof-of-concept before we let them try here at home.

        *evil grin*

    3. Then again, people tend to prefer native grown* tyrants over even benevolent colonization. For instance, the Russians meekly went along with Stalin’s murder & starvation, but fought hard against the Hitlerite attempts to do the same- and then meekly laid themselves down again for Stalin’s bootheel.

      *even foreigners like Stalin, as long as they portray themselves as native & “more Russian than the Russians”.

    4. It gets quickly buried but there’s been noises coming out of some of the former colonies in Africa that they rather miss being under colonial rule, for a variety of reasons (notably law and order, and because the Chinese only want to exploit, not develop anything at all.)

      1. Were the Fairy Godmother to wave her wand, and put the Colonial governments back in place, I have no doubt that those same people would make noises about wanting a return to independence.
        Humans do love to grumble and whine.

        1. I have no doubt that given Heaven, some would immediately seek out means of improving (or perhaps “improving”) it and that given Hell, some would strike out to find means of making it even worse.

  14. Well, you could do what I do (and I’m of the “there were supposed to be pants??” school of winging it) — write from random spots in the middle to the beginning and end. I very rarely write in catalog order; I write isolated scenes that eventually fit into the timeline, tho at the moment of writing I may not know where. No direction required, only the scene of current interest. Eventually everything _does_ fit together, and I don’t have to worry about slogging through the middle.

  15. “A little putty, a little paint makes a carpenter what he ain’t”- old saying in the construction business.

  16. I think that our human tendency to suffer great error is proportionately related to how important any particular trait is to human survival. We don’t overdo unimportant things.

    So perfectionism? Our ability to find fault is clearly an important survival trait. We notice the smallest detail that is “off” about our environment and our creations and do it in ourselves most of all.

  17. Yes – the perfect as the enemy of the good.
    I have known myself to be a dilitente since back in my teens – I will NEVER master anything that I try to perfection, but I am content to stop at “good enough.”
    thanx for the post!

  18. Perfection. Yeah…

    I used to worry a lot about what other people would think of me and what I was doing, or building, or making. Constantly.

    But then, as I got older (took a lonnnng time) I noticed that people generally seem to never think about much of anything. If prompted for a comment they will invariably say something critical, but it isn’t a considered thing. They just say the first complaint that enters their brain pan. No thinking involved.

    Which I found extremely annoying, to be sure. I’ve been trying so hard, making everything perfect, and nobody thought anything about it? Huh.

    But then, after I got even older, I noticed that I do the same thing. I also noticed I have no fucking idea what other people like, what they want, or anything like that. They tell me, but all I can come up with is “but why would you want -that-?” I profoundly don’t get them.

    So now I don’t try to make things “perfect.” I get them to a handsome and functional state that I like, and then I move on to the next thing. Books, furniture, all the same. If it is doing the job and not stinking the place out, I’m satisfied.

    So if you’re trying to make something perfect to satisfy somebody else’s supposed standards, you’re wasting your time. They’re not going to be satisfied. You can forget it. Make it the way YOU like it.

  19. Sarah: Sent something to your thermal e-ddress, but from an account I might not have sent to you from before. The net of vivaldi, same name before the @ as with google.

  20. As another word for “utopianism” boy howdy does it kill.

    One of the great strengths of the American system was the ways in which it made failure manageable. Survivable. But still severe. It gave us the cultural mind set to take risks, try to build things, while not allowing ineptitude too much space to wallow and immiserate. That’s changed.

    So I wonder how much of the cultural phenomenon Mrs Hoyt describes is truly a function of being a self-doubting creative, and more a function of being a creative in a sick society.

    1. So I wonder how much of the cultural phenomenon Mrs Hoyt describes is truly a function of being a self-doubting creative, and more a function of being a creative in a sick society.

      A truly interesting take on things. Fatalism is… well… self-describing as well as self-fulfilling.

  21. Of course perfection isn’t possible. Ms. Hoyt is right. Now then, apply the problem of perfectionism to society and not individuals and it just gets worse.

    Define ‘perfection’. I’ll wait. Define the perfect human body. Is it Lebron? What does Steph Curry say to that? Is it a ballerina? Whatever; there are > 100K genes and several million potential mutations in these genes, so we’re all different, and we look different, have different function, and different physical attributes. If perfect means that there is one body that is perfect, where does that leave the rest of us?

    Define the perfect human intellect. Is it a genius? What kind of genius? A jazz musician has a different kind of intellect than a physicist. Which one is perfect?

    Define perfect human behavior. There’s only seven and a half billion of us, whose behavior shall be deemed perfect? Or no-one today has perfect behavior, but what behavioral attributes are perfect?

    Define a perfect human society. Just as with bodily function, intellect and behavior, it can’t be done.

    Now we know why socialism always fails — it has a core belief that humankind will progress so that one day we have a ‘perfect’ society. But that can’t happen; we’ll fail, and so socialism, even if it weren’t always corrupted almost immediately by monsters, will always fail.

    There is no perfection.

    1. A line from a certain Jack Chalker novel comes to mind: “Perfection is the object of the experiment, not a component.”

  22. I have a relative with serious problems because of her need to appear and be perfect. She loses friends hurts family and becomes depressed. She won’t get help from a professional because that requires admitting she’s not perfect. Perfection is a real catch 22.

  23. Sergey Gorshkov is often associated with the phrase “‘Better’ is the enemy of ‘Good Enough'” (“Лучшее – враг хорошего”) which is reputed to have hung on the wall of his office as a motto. Similar sentiments have been attributed to Clausewitz and Voltaire.

  24. You don’t know what is perfect either.

    Sarah, I’m afraid I’m going to have to differ with you over this. It’s far from a simple matter, and it must not be treated as simple.

    To say that a thing is perfect is to say that it’s finished; that it meets the standard set for it. So the relevant question about perfection is: For specified item or undertaking X, what is the applicable standard? Who set it, did he have the authority to do so, and is there a way to determine when the standard has been met?

    Thus, to say “there is no perfection” is to say “there is no standard.” But each of us sets standards for himself – specific, delimited standards for each of his undertakings – all the time. How can that be wrong? How can it be inappropriate?

    If you mean to say that there is no all-encompassing standard of perfection – a single standard that all things, regardless of the differences among them, must meet – then you have a point. Similarly, if you were to argue about who has the authority to set standards – i.e., to say that “Smith cannot set a standard of perfection and then insist that Jones must meet it” — that would be reasonable as well. But to ask “What standard is properly applicable to X, my current effort of concern, and how will I know when I’ve met it?” is to be a responsible artist / craftsman – first and foremost, responsible to oneself.

    There was a sign hung over an office in which I worked that asked two questions:

    Are you doing the right thing?
    Are you doing the thing right?

    Those are useful questions regardless of one’s specific enterprise. They compel you to be clear of mind about what you intend to produce, and to understand as completely as possible what’s required of it. And unlike most generalizations, theydo apply validly to many things.

    Ask the wrong question and you’ll get a useless answer every time. “Is this perfect?” according to an irrelevant or an under-defined standard is always the wrong question, the sort that drains the meaning from the quite useful word perfect. For giggles, see also this screed about “sainthood.”

    1. The problem with an argument from definition is that it often employs an imperfect definition.

      A casual examination of the Merriam Webster entry indicates you have attempted to employ a single, inadequate meaning of the word:

      perfect adjective
      per·​fect | \ ˈpər-fikt \
      Definition of perfect (Entry 1 of 3)
      1a : being entirely without fault or defect : FLAWLESS
      a perfect diamond

      b : satisfying all requirements : ACCURATE

      c : corresponding to an ideal standard or abstract concept
      a perfect gentleman

      d : faithfully reproducing the original
      specifically : LETTER-PERFECT

      e : legally valid

      practice makes perfect

      3a : PURE, TOTAL

      b : lacking in no essential detail : COMPLETE

      c obsolete : SANE

      enjoys perfect happiness

      e : of an extreme kind : UNMITIGATED
      a perfect brat
      an act of perfect foolishness

      4 obsolete : MATURE

      5 : of, relating to, or constituting a verb form or verbal that expresses an action or state completed at the time of speaking or at a time spoken of

      6 obsolete
      a : CERTAIN, SURE


      7 of a musical interval : belonging to the consonances unison, fourth, fifth, and octave which become augmented or diminished when raised or lowered by a half step

      8a : sexually mature and fully differentiated
      a perfect insect

      b : having both stamens and pistils in the same flower
      a perfect flower

      As should be clear, Sarah’s use of the term is in perfect accord with meanings 1a, 1c, and 3b while you have attempted to measure it against 1b. The evidence is clear that all readers other than yourself understood the context of Sarah’s use of the term – leaving your rebuttal off target, incomplete and imperfect.

  25. “Which, sorry to bring up Peterson again, but he’s the only person I’ve seen who said this, if you’re by nature creative can make you mentally ill. ”

    No, it’s a common saying among the Celts that you can’t be a real Bard unless you’re at least a little crazy,

  26. The Conundrum of the Workshops
    When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden’s green and gold,
    Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
    And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
    Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

    Wherefore he called to his wife, and fled to fashion his work anew —
    The first of his race who cared a fig for the first, most dread review;
    And he left his lore to the use of his sons — and that was a glorious gain
    When the Devil chuckled “Is it Art?” in the ear of the branded Cain.

    They builded a tower to shiver the sky and wrench the stars apart,
    Till the Devil grunted behind the bricks: “It’s striking, but is it Art?”
    The stone was dropped at the quarry-side and the idle derrick swung,
    While each man talked of the aims of Art, and each in an alien tongue.

    They fought and they talked in the North and the South, they talked and they fought in the West,
    Till the waters rose on the pitiful land, and the poor Red Clay had rest —
    Had rest till that dank blank-canvas dawn when the dove was preened to start,
    And the Devil bubbled below the keel: “It’s human, but is it Art?”

    The tale is as old as the Eden Tree — and new as the new-cut tooth —
    For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
    And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
    The Devil drum on the darkened pane: “You did it, but was it Art?”

    We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,
    We have learned to bottle our parents twain in the yelk of an addled egg,
    We know that the tail must wag the dog, for the horse is drawn by the cart;
    But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: “It’s clever, but is it Art?”

    When the flicker of London sun falls faint on the Club-room’s green and gold,
    The sons of Adam sit them down and scratch with their pens in the mould —
    They scratch with their pens in the mould of their graves, and the ink and the anguish start,
    For the Devil mutters behind the leaves: “It’s pretty, but is it Art?”

    Now, if we could win to the Eden Tree where the Four Great Rivers flow,
    And the Wreath of Eve is red on the turf as she left it long ago,
    And if we could come when the sentry slept and softly scurry through,
    By the favour of God we might know as much — as our father Adam knew!

  27. “It has blighted more lives than autism, destroyed more potential work than brain damage, stopped more achievement than miss-education.”

    I don’t think you’re giving miss-education its due. Not nearly.

      1. No doubt. Nevertheless, mis-education blights more lives. I’m one of those odd chaps who cares about the literal denotation of sentences.

        1. Pro-tip: when attempting to make a pun from a typo, put more effort into it.

          That could’ve neatly spun into a delightful thread of the various levels– Miss-education, Mrs-education, Ma’am-education– but it just fell flat.

  28. Thank you for your timely article. I have finished my first book but I am hesitant to publish it because–you guessed it–it’s not perfect. Every time I read it I find some petty flaw that I fixate on. My beta readers loved it, but that has not been enough for me. Your article has given me the motivation to publish it. Thank you.

  29. Sometimes, “good enough for gummint work” IS the appropriate standard.

    “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow” served well on June 6th, 1944.

  30. Introduce your boys to the Critter Crunch. (look it up) Perfection does not exist there. Good enough wins. The Denver Mad Scientists are great role models for that.

  31. “Diminishing Returns” can also be a factor, and understanding where one is at the point where more effort leads to less & less effect.

    It’s also interesting that some of the better artistic works are dashed off hurriedly with very little effort, often as filler. Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” or the Who’s “A Quick One” come to mind.

  32. Perfectionism is never an ability. It will take away your happiness in life. But the good thing is we can overcome such thing as that. Yes, it may seem difficult. But its never impossible. We should remember that we are humans. And humans aren’t perfect. But there is beauty in imperfections. Forgive yourself and others as well. Thanks for sharing.

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