Do We Need Perfection?

  • @SweetieBerry just tweeted this: Often the more important question isn’t “is it perfect?” but “does it function?”  Begin where you are.  Grow if you need to!
  • Big D (age 5) really struggles with perfection, and I’m trying to help her gain some perspective, so she can keep working and not get hung up, both physically and emotionally, on her work not being perfect enough.
  • One of my personal mottoes for the last 20 years or so has been “progress in a day, not perfection in an hour.”

Add these three things together, and you get one mama really rethinking things.  Sure, perfection is arguably desirable, but is it generally necessary, and, more importantly, is it worth putting in the extra effort to create? 

I want my brain surgeon to do a perfect job.  Likewise I want to get 100% of the puke cleaned up when my kid hurls at 3 AM, but, generally, perfection just isn’t all that important.  Like some Army folks I know have said, an 80% solution will usually get the job done most efficiently.

I celebrated ALL of the arrows she got in the butt, but Big D was all about the bull's eye.

If I have a typo in this post I might be embarrassed, and you might think less of me, but will it make my post less easy to read or understand?  Not likely, unless I really butcher a hugely important word and it is the only time it appears in the post.  The value of estimation skills in mathematics is leading to increased emphasis on mental math skills.  Hospital corners aren’t even used in hospitals, now that we have fitted sheets.  No house with kids living in it is ever going to look perfect, at least not for more than five minutes, as long as the kids are in it and not in straitjackets.

FUNCTIONALITY is the important thing, just as @SweetieBerry said.

If my penmanship is legible, my message gets across.  If I keep a $100 buffer in my checking account, I probably don’t need to worry about change when I balance my checkbook.  If a house is tidy enough for the residents to live happily and healthfully within it, what is the point in spending more time on it, when that time could be spent enjoying said family?

Good enough *really is* good enough!

Image from Handwriting Without Tears, which is the program that we use. Like I said, legibility is important!

So how do I help my daughter with this?  I could ask her what she is trying to achieve with her work; sort of a mental rubric (or even a written one!), and then she can assess for herself when her mission is accomplished.  I have the impression though, that she has a mental image of what her work is “supposed” to look like, regardless of the intended audience or purpose, and that she gets frustrated when her work falls short of that imagined mark.  How to let her know that her work will improve the more she works at it, *over time*, and that it doesn’t need to be perfect today, if ever?  How do I talk to her about this without undermining her work ethic and personal drive for achievement?

As always, I welcome your ideas…

This entry was posted in Homeschooling Life, psychology, stretching my head. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Do We Need Perfection?

  1. Thank you for sharing this with me. I believe that none of us can be perfect, so our role is to strive to be loving and to love ourselves in others in ways that honor God. As a former public school teacher and now a strategist for home based businesses and small businesses, I stress process, not perfect products. Because the human body is not perfectly the same, that well trained surgeon cannot be perfect in each surgery, surgery is an art as much as a science. Our artists, writers, dancers, and inventions have often come from imperfect experiences that opened the door to new processes and methods of creating.
    I often explain to my child that perfection is rooted in control and the only one who is truly in control is our creator, the rest of us are simply learning as we go! The values and character that gets helps us learn to be productive, to share, give, and live meaningful lives are truly not based in perfection but in love.

    • p.s. I know you are a secular homeschooler, so I believe we share the same concepts that people matter more than perfect products. 🙂

      • Siggi says:

        Yeah, the ‘only the Creator is perfect’ argument won’t fly in our house, but the idea that we are growing, developing, learning beings, who will *always* have room to improve will! I try to model being my own coach; supportive of my growth, but gentle with my own process, so hopefully she will pick up on some of that! Watching my body language when I tackle purging my storage room is a task unto itself!

    • Siggi says:

      You are so right that imperfect experiences are often the seeds of creative thought and problem solving – the scientific method is based on a process of further refinements towards functionality!

      I love looking at weaving traditions from around the world, many of which have deliberate ‘errors’ in their symetrical patterns woven in, the ideas behind these ranging from ‘letting the energy out of enclosed spaces’ to ‘no one can be perfect but G-d’.

  2. Bon Crowder says:

    Great read, Siggi!

    I wonder if starting out each day with four questions would help:

    * What am I great at today that I wasn’t great at 5 years ago?
    * What am I great at today that I wasn’t great at 5 days ago?
    * What can I be great at in 5 days if I start today?
    * What can I be great at in 5 years if I start today?

    Adjust the number and the units (months?) and you have some structure of reflection that you can work from.

    Let me know what you think.

    • Love this comment Bon, it is so true, and so eye opening when we remember how much we’ve learned and how much we can do if we decide to!

      • Siggi says:

        But that very decision making process implies *choice*, and that is critical to me. I love music, and would love to be able to play both piano and guitar. I have both, and I’m sure that I could get seriously decent in the next twenty years, if I worked at it every day, but I do not *choose* to spend my time that way, both by choice and by circumstance, so I’m unlikely to ever be able to do more than pick out a tune on either.

        (Squee! A real discussion on my blog! Thanks, Ladies!)

    • Siggi says:

      Are you familiar with the idea of multipotentiality? I think we can each be really great at many, many things, but, in order to decide which to pursue, and how best to use our time, we need to look at WHY we want to be great at something. Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, societal expectations, value judgements; many things come into play here. Also, there are few things that we were great at five years ago that we are still great at today if we haven’t practiced and maintainted the skillsets…

      Time is a sketchy concept for little kids, too. Christmas seems interminably far away to my kids, but I know that time flies, and it is right around the corner! Heck, getting things done today to free up tomorrow is still a tough concept for my kids to grasp! (Or maybe they are just born procrastinators!)

      I ask my kids every night, at bedtime, what was their favorite and least favorite thing that day, and what they are looking forward to about the next day. It helps us reflect on how things went, how we could have done things differently, and enables us to have as clean a psychological slate as possible with which to go into the next day. I always try to comment on things I saw them working especially hard on, but I can see where adding in a question like “what did you get better at today?” might be of real benefit, esp since I don’t necessarily see things as they do. Thanks, Bon!

  3. schedule5 says:

    Hi, found your blog from #mathfour’s twitter feed. We are struggling with this issue with my 6yo, and have started showing her any time we do rough work for a project or sketch out an idea. This has helped her see that many drafts may be needed to get something right and not be so discouraged if it doesn’t look “perfect” first time round.

    Tonight we had a long discussion about how a plastic flower garden (representing her and her friend) would be “perfect” but not alive and not able to grow and change. We discussed how a normal person would be more like a real flower garden, with wilted leaves, bugs and bent flowers, but beautiful and fragrant and able to grow and change. She works well through metaphor and that seemed to make the concept of being not perfect a bit less threatening.

    Also, almost every night when she goes to sleep we say “You’re not perfect (because no-one is), but you are perfect for this family.”

    • Siggi says:

      Big D battles with looking at how much work it would take to get it “right”, and then giving up in frustration, sometimes before she even really starts. Trying to help her have more reasonable expectations for herself is a big part of our social-emotional goals for this coming year.

      Have you read any of the resources for gifted and talented youth and their families? I don’t know if my kids are gifted or not, but a lot of the social and emotional issues gifted kids tend to have seem to be evident in my kids, so I look to that community for some ideas. Hoagies Gifted Resources Page is a HUGE boon, as is SENG, in case you wanted to take a peak at what they have to say about perfectionism.

      I LOVE that flower garden analogy, and will definitely try it with her – thank you!!! Being pefect is thereby equated with stagnation, and thus NOT a goal to quest after, but maybe even something to avoid. Interesting idea, that one – thanks!

      Also, welcome to Turkeydoodles, and thanks for commenting! Any friend of Bon’s is most welcome! 🙂

      • schedule5 says:

        We sometimes have the issue that she won’t try something if it looks like too much work to get right. (My mom says she gets it from me!) And I’m loving finding the various GT communities online, thank-you 🙂 – my daughter is currently at a gifted school, but homeschooling is looking more and more like a good option and it’s nice to find other resources.

  4. Wow, excellent points. Perfection is so overrated… but you’re right… there are times when it IS important. I think it is so necessary to encourage kids to determine when the need for working toward a “perfect” end or when just being “functional.” Otherwise, they end up trying to make EVERYTHING perfect and it makes for a miserable existence. Love the thoughts you have posted here. I am interested in helping my students understand perfectionism, how to set realistic and healthy goals, and most importantly, knowing when good really IS good enough!

    • Siggi says:

      I find it interesting that teachers historically look for perfection in areas that are actually so not critical to modern life – penmanship, pencil and paper arithmatic, and spelling. With typing, calculators and spell check, not to mention google for rote memory tasks, ‘creative’ is a much more telling epithet than is ‘perfect’!

      Helping students navigate what is worth it is hard; what is worth it to me might not be worth it to my daughter, and vice versa. I wonder what it would be like to actually learn in an environment where the student’s OWN value judgements of “when it is worth it” control their aiming for perfection. I wonder if the adults in their lives could learn to *appreciate* student-driven work like that. We urge kids on towards accuracy/perfection in maths since we adults tend to value it as a skill, but a child fixated on getting the shading right in a manga too many adults tend to disregard as trivial. Good enough may be in the eye of the beholder!

      Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

  5. Jill Cozzens says:

    Have you considered setting a practice timer? Perhaps setting a time limit on the practice necessary to achieve her perception of perfection might help her to get around some of that frustration? I can remember avoiding practicing the piano when I was taking lessons but if a timer had been involved I like to think I’d have been more inclined to just get it over with!

    • Siggi says:

      Seems like you are talking about two different situations here, one where the student doesn’t want to work (and is thus getting it over with) and the other where the student wants to work, but is not actively deciding when enough is enough. Helping a student in the latter situation to decide that he or she will go five more minutes, then move on to something else, realizing that they have already spent perhaps more time on something than they feel it warranted, is one thing, but it would have to be a dialogue with the stuent, and their choice, to stop. The first situation is one I hope we never have to deal with!

  6. Kristen says:

    I love taking out my dd’s work from earlier in the year or even just as recent as the passed few weeks and showing her the amount of progress she has made. I recently found her first few attempts as writing her name. I showed it to her and she CRACKED up laughing. I reminded her that since we are practicing every day its hard to always chart the progress– but when you take a step back you can see the giant strides that you are making.
    She LOVES showing people how she used to write! I told her that 6 months from now she’ll only continue to improve so not to worry obsessively about trying to see daily progress.

    • Siggi says:

      Great idea! I do that with Big D sometimes too; she loves to see things that she remembers struggling with, and the look on her face when she realizes that she has mastered that content now is just lovely. 🙂

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