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Done is Better than Perfect

My nine year old daughter spent the last week asking me what I thought she should give up for Lent. No doubt she was trying to come up with the absolute perfect Lenten sacrifice. She is just like her mother. As a melancholic perfectionist, I’m always on the quest for the perfect, or ideal. The ideal homeschool curriculum, the ideal chore routine, the ideal discipline technique, and yes, the ideal sacrifice for Lent. (And in my mind, the “ideal” sacrifice is one that is very arduous and unpleasant, and is reminiscent of the days when Catholics gave up all animal products for the entirety of Lent).

When I’m making plans, nothing can ever just be “good enough.” It has to be perfect. Because if I can just figure out what the perfect thing is, then my life will be perfect!

But the problem with the quest for “the perfect” is that it’s usually unrealistic. What ends up happening is that that perfect thing I spent so much time trying to identify does not work out perfectly in my life. The perfect homeschool curriculum that I spent hours researching? It doesn’t actually fit my teaching style or the unique circumstances of my life. That perfect discipline technique? My kids don’t respond well to it. That perfect Lenten sacrifice? It usually results in me biting off more than I can chew (which is ironic for a season of fasting). 

Then, none of it gets done, because “perfect” is too hard and too overwhelming. Instead, I default to nothing. If the science curriculum [on which I spent a ton of money] proves to be too much, there goes science altogether. If the Lenten sacrifice I chose is way too hard, I inevitably just stop trying. And then I’m angry at myself because I’ve failed. Wouldn’t it have been better if I had made more realistic choices and set more realistic goals in in the first place? Wouldn’t success have become more likely?

It turns out that most of the time, “perfect” in the abstract is not the same as “perfect for me.”

So, I’ve started reminding myself that “Done is better than perfect.” That’s my short [and, admittedly, grammatically-questionable] way of saying that something that seems ‘just’ good, but gets accomplished, is better than something that seems perfect, but doesn’t get accomplished. It’s a companion to the saying, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”

A good curriculum that I realistically can implement in our homeschooling is better than the “ideal” curriculum that I can’t implement. A good Lenten sacrifice that I can stick to is better than an “ideal” sacrifice that I give up on within the first week or two.

This doesn’t mean I think that we should give a half-hearted effort at things. No, the Lord wants our best!

He wants our best. Not the best anyone could ever offer.

It takes humility and honesty with ourselves to see the difference between those two.

If you find that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew this Lent, be gentle with yourself, and choose something more realistic. In the end, the perfect Lenten sacrifice and the perfect curriculum, and the perfect fill-in-the-blank are the ones that we get done – faithfully, and with love.

About Mary

Mary is a lifelong Catholic, a wife to an incredible man, and a homeschooling mother of two girls and two boys. She loves studying theology and apologetics and is very passionate about our beautiful Faith.

  • Claire - Awesome post. It really is all about humility!March 2, 2017 – 5:11 amReplyCancel

  • Traci - Ah… you are a kindred spirit. What I have discovered through years of “failures” is that it is not so much what you do or how much you do, but the spirit of how you do it. A small thing that you do with love is far better than a big thing done in any other frame of mind, especially anxiety or self righteousness.March 2, 2017 – 6:32 pmReplyCancel

  • Tiffany - I was recently listening to a speaker who said that a perfectionist is always a failure, in their own mind, by definition. I thought that was insightful (and yes the crux of his talk was also humility…) Thanks for writing this!March 3, 2017 – 12:38 amReplyCancel

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