Good enough is good enough

July 14, 2009 | By | 7 Replies More

I’m enjoying my newly and consciously chosen path: things don’t need to be perfect.  Not that I ever really was a perfectionist.   But especially when it comes to consumer purchases, I’m much less a perfectionist than I ever was.  Here are a couple cases in point.

The rear (electric) window of our ten year old car no longer goes up and down.  My immediate thought was to have it fixed.  I got an estimate:  $270.   Gad.   My wife and I decided that we can do without that window going up and down (even though my daughters (who sit in the back) would prefer that it work.  $270 is a lot of allowance money.   I asked the repair guy how much it would cost to make the window permanently stay up (because it kept sliding down).  He said that he could do it for $100.  I turned down that offer, went home and glued it shut.  Far from perfect, though quite satisfactory.

A friend visited today.  The lock on her car’s passenger-side door was broken.  She said:  “Passengers can get into the car on the other side.” She added that not fixing minor things is a big time saver.  Why make appointments and burn hours fixing something that isn’t really a priority?

These car stories won’t resonate for may people.   I’ve known dozens of people who freak out if there is even a single little scratch on their car.   Nor would they ever try to fix it themselves.   They will run it to the dealer, especially if someone else was at fault.  A man accidentally collided with our other car 6 months ago.  I suggested that I find a body shop that could bang it into shape, but said that I didn’t want it to be “like new.”  After all, the car is 8 years old.  I found a shop that straightened out the bends and sprayed over the scrapes for $400, instead of getting a “like new” job that would have cost $1,500.  It’s good enough for me.

There are days when I intend to get x number of things done.  I’ve found that my life goes much more smoothly if I let some of those things drop off the list, unaccomplished.  Imperfect execution of my list, but a much more enjoyable day.

Here’s something probably a bit too personal.  I jammed a toe playing racquetball about a year ago and one of my big toenails fell off.  Instead of growing back pretty, it’s all mangled looking (it’s not nearly as ugly as most of these )  A doctor recently said that the ugliness was caused by fungus (this is a common condition—no, really!), and said that I could purchase a prescription medication that was harsh on the liver for 90 straight days to get rid of it.  I turned it down—I’ll cope OK with my one mangled looking toe nail.  Maybe it will grow back prettier someday, or maybe not.  I really don’t care.

When my daughters mention that a banana has a brown spot, I grab it from them and eat it.   Some ink leaked onto one of my shirts last year.  It’s now my inky shirt and I wear it regularly—I’m proud of it.  Our front yard doesn’t look nearly as nice as the yards of neighbors who hire lawn services.  When I’m traveling on the business credit card, I get $80 hotel rooms, even though no one would say anything if I spent 2 or 3 times that much for a “nicer” room.  There is some chipping paint in the living room of my house.  It’s been there for fifteen years. When I need to buy a new pair of shoes, it embarrasses me that they look too new.

When I have visitors, I’m sure that I have much less than perfect etiquette (this makes my wife cringe).  Witness three guests last week who were served frozen pizza and glasses of water.  Instead, I try to focus on spending time with people—having quality conversations.  And I do like to write carefully—I fret about things quite a bit before publishing them.  And I do try to be a commendable father to my daughters.  And I work really hard to cover all the bases for my clients at work. There are many things that truly are important enough to do very well.

So, yes, some things DO matter to me.  But many things don’t matter, and that’s often the way I like it.  It’s satisficingly liberating.  I choose imperfection because I don’t want to spend my limited amounts of fungible money and time dealing with things that don’t really matter.

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Category: American Culture, Consumerism, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (7)

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  1. Erika Price says:

    Cars are such a plentiful source of such stories! I lived on a cramped street that attempts to funnel two directions of traffic in addition to on-street parking on both sides. Can you guess what pricey injury my car has twice sustained?

    The first time a sloppy motorist knocked off my side view mirror, I went to the car dealership. A new, electric mirror that didn't even match my car's paint job was $200 or so. When my mirror was knocked off a second time I decided to settle for an epoxied-on repair job- the epoxy cost me $3. I have to adjust my mirror by hand now, and there is an unsightly epoxy stream fused to my car, but I have 4000 PSIs of support holding my good-enough mirror in place and I am satisfied.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    My first engineering boss regularly said, "The perfect is the enemy of the good." He was Argentinian and had a ready supply of aphorisms that didn't always translate well. But he was good with quick decisions. They weren't always good decisions, but they kept things moving.

    We creative types are prone to get bogged down in the last 1% of our reach for perfection. It is an asymptotic approach; can never be reached.

    Earlier, I had received similar advice from my art school mentor, "Just make it look intentional." One has to step back from expectations and ask oneself, "Will anyone know if that was your goal?" I've completed many a project well short of what I had originally visualized.

  3. Random related thoughts:

    An interesting maxim that seemingly promotes perfectionism; 'If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing right'. I've come to realize over the years since I first heard it that it's actually liberating if rephrased. 'If a job isn't worth doing right, it's not worth doing'. In other words, some jobs just aren't worth agonizing over. Knock them out any old way and move on. Save the agonizing for the things that really deserve it.

    I recall the line Dan mentioned as 'the perfect is the enemy of the good enough'.

    Do note that there is a seductive pull in the opposite direction as well, equally to be avoided. Once in a very great while, more by chance than by intent, perfection (or something near enough to fool human senses) can be achieved. Embrace it in the moment, share it if possible, then move on. I know a fair number of people who actively mar something if it's 'too perfect'.

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    There is a corollary to this in setting and meeting expectations.

    As a consultant mentoring and managing other consultants and clients, I'm often challenged to constrain their 'enthusiasms' to the possible, rather than the 'perfect' that they all want to attain (part of the consulting mindset is to be the best, and part of the client mindset is always to want the best).

    Setting realistic expectations at the outset that are always well short of 'perfect' is a necessity.

    Perhaps that's why I enjoy my job: I often meet or exceed expectations, so I usually encounter a positive outcome. My team and clients are often happier with such results too! (80% done when 100% was expected is bad. 80% done when 79% was expected is good)

    Perhaps it is also why so many people are unhappy with what they do — they know it could be much better, but don't know how to manage their expectations or their performance to affect the outcome.

    It's such a simple thing. Good enough?

  5. Alison says:

    Your attitude towards good enough and perfect can make a big difference in your quality of life. Making something good enough can be an even more creative challenge than making something perfect. It's also more likely to get done if good enough is the goal.

    I have been a sewer for most of my life, and taught a lot of sewing classes. It took me a while to learn it, and I made sure I passed it along right at the beginning when I was teaching – "If nobody can see it, it's not a mistake." Students would come up to me and point out an uneven seam, or something that came out wrong, and often the only thing needed to correct the problem was to ignore it. At an earlier point, I used to say that the only thing you couldn't fix was if you cut a big hole in the middle – but I proved myself wrong on that one, too. I was in a rush to make adorable matching dresses for my little girls for Easter, one was finished, the other needed just some final touches. I went to snip off the excess end of the zipper, down at the middle of the skirt, and cut a hole in the middle. I fused it and stitched it, opened up the side seams of each of the dresses, sewed up some nice long tie ends and restitched the side seams – after those ends were tied up into deliciously pouffy bows, you'd never know one of the dresses had a big hole in it.

  6. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    This thread reminds me of this cartoon.

  7. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    A couple of other thoughts.

    1. I've owned over a dozen cars over the years, and only once did I buy a new one. My first car was a 68 Plymouth that I bought at a yard sale (from a friend) for $200. It was mechanically sound but looked like roadkill. I learned an important concept: If you drive in the city a lot, it is much better to have a beatup old car because the people with the shiny new cars will assume you are responsible for the dents and keep their distance and won't tailgate you.

    2. I work as a programmer/analyst. A lot of my work is what we call ad-hockery. That's where the boss comes in and says: "I need this tape downloaded from the mainframe and converted to a spreadsheet.

    So I jump in and throw a script program together that does the job but without a lot of frills that does the job with the knowledge that it will probably never be needed again. But I save a copy with some notes added, just in case I need it again, because I do. And if I need it often, I will then polish it up, add the graphic interface then turn it over to the end user. But for most of what I do, "Good enough" is quick but anything nearing perfection just takes too long.

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