Perfect is Paralyzing (But Good Is Great)

(Laura’s note: I’m on maternity leave, and while I’ll be blogging occasionally over the next few weeks, I wanted to use this opportunity to run guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers. Enjoy!)

by Camille Noe Pagán

Late last year, I was about to give birth to my son when a friend told me how she had done all these amazing things for her toddler daughter to prepare her for her new sibling. She created a special toy box for the toddler to use while my friend was nursing the baby; made “big sister” t-shirts and pajamas for her; and lined up play dates for months so that her daughter wouldn’t notice that her mother didn’t have as much time to pay attention to her.

Let me tell you: hearing these grand plans made me feel like a lazy jerk of a mom. I hadn’t created a special nursing toy box, hand-stitched clothes or set up post delivery play dates for my toddler. My idea of welcoming my daughter to the Big Sister Club was allowing her to hold her baby brother (on my lap, of course) at the hospital. Hardly perfect.

I had the same feeling when another writer recently told me it had taken her five years to complete her manuscript—which was ultimately a very well written and well received novel. She couldn’t let it go until it was just right, she said. Five years?! I thought. I wrote my first draft in less than five months. Maybe if I had taken longer I could have turned it into the next Freedom. (Okay, I don’t actually have aspirations to fill Jonathan Franzen’s shoes. But hearing this did give me a major case of writer regret).

After both of these things happened, I went around casting a critical eye at my personal and professional lives. To get closer to perfect, I obsessed over my prose on my work-in-progress, only to discover that I was spending days on a single page and not making any progress—which made me want to abandon the story altogether. I hosted a no-babies-allowed tea party with my daughter, who took one look at the green tea I’d poured into tiny tea cups and informed me that she wanted to make cookies—the messy, lopsided, imperfect oatmeal chocolate chip cookies we love to bake—with me and her brother.

Perfectionism is wonderful for many people. I suspect some even strive for perfection on accident; they’re just wired that way. But for me, trying to be perfect—as a mom or a writer—is paralyzing. Trying to do something with perfection in mind means I trip up on the details so much that I don’t get anything done, or worse, get it done but don’t enjoy the process at all.

Good, though, is great. Good gives me permission to sail through a so-so draft and then go back and fix it. Good means I can mother in a way that’s relaxing for me and my kids.“Good” is an obtainable standard, and I strive for it on a daily basis.

What about you? When is perfect important—and when is good good enough?

Camille Noe Pagán is a journalist (O, Forbes.com, Parade, Glamour), mom to two kids and author of the novel The Art of Forgetting.

2 thoughts on “Perfect is Paralyzing (But Good Is Great)

  1. Hi Camille! I loved this post. It’s sometimes so hard to see other people’s flaws/imperfections from the outside and that makes it so easy to believe everyone else is doing more.

    I’m looking for people to Guest Post on my blog Little Spindle and was curious if you’d be interested. I focus on my love for baking as well as the everyday life that me and my husband lead.

    If you’re interested feel free to email me at:
    [email protected]!

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