At this time of year, it's easy to find ourselves rushing around in a mad dash to get everything done before Christmas, so maybe it's a good time to consider if we're being too hard on ourselves. Next time you're struggling to complete some task and make it exactly right, it's worth bearing in mind that the world is an imperfect place. It's meant to be that way. Indeed, if everything was perfect, we wouldn't even be here. Science has proved it.
For the earliest example of this inherent imperfection, we need to go back to the Big Bang, when the universe was created. At that time, scientists now understand, equal amounts of matter and something equal and opposite called antimatter were created. Except that as nothing is perfect in the universe, there is a slight flaw in the statement I just made. It should have read: "almost equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created". In actual fact, it now turns out, there was a tiny deviation of one extra particle of matter for every 10 billion particles. So slightly more matter than antimatter was created. This is an example of something called a 'broken symmetry', and the physicist Yoichiro Nambu has recently won a Nobel prize for his work in this field.
This particular broken symmetry is very important, because what happens when matter meets antimatter is that they cancel each other out. First you have stuff, now you don't. Poof! So just after the Big Bang happened, a lot of this canceling out took place. A lot of matter met antimatter and disappeared. Which means that... if there had really been equal amounts of matter and antimatter, everything would have disappeared. It's only because of the broken symmetry, the imperfection, that any matter remains at all. Otherwise, we - and the universe - wouldn't even exist.
But the importance of imperfection doesn't stop there. The human race, and every other race of creatures on this planet - with the possible exception of the amoeba :-) - are also a product of imperfection. Our race hasn't evolved in a smooth, orderly progression, but by throwing up random genetic mutations which occasionally suit the prevailing conditions better than their 'normal' parents and therefore thrive. These successful mutations then pass on their genes to subsequent generations, causing the species to evolve accordingly. People who have physical characteristics which differ from 'the norm' may often suffer ridicule at the hands of their fellows, but the fact is that without such examples of 'imperfection', evolution wouldn't have happened - and we'd still all be one step down from a barnacle.
So maybe we should bear in mind the beautiful imperfections of our world in our daily lives. And maybe we don't need to give ourselves such a hard time by dotting every 'i' and crossing every ''t. Maybe we don't even need to get all our apostrophes in the right place's. We may still want to do our best in life, but that may not require 100% perfection in very task we do.
I recently read an article by Bob Cox which suggested that we should ask ourselves: "have I achieved 90 percent of what I was aiming for with this project?" If the answer is yes, then maybe we'll be wearing ourselves out unnecessarily if we take it the extra ten percent. Maybe our efforts would be better applied elsewhere - or in giving ourselves a well-earned rest.
This idea has to be interpreted with care, of course. I'm not sure how applicable it is to brain surgery, for instance, and if I was working on a murder mystery, I wouldn't want to stop writing when I was 90% of the way through the book. But when I got to the end, I might choose to leave it at two revisions instead of three...
Some might consider the figure of 90% perfection to be too low. They might prefer to go for 95%, or even 98%. But the general principle remains the same. If you're trying to make it perfect, you're probably wasting your time. You're more likely to wear yourself out than achieve perfection - and the chances are that no one else but you will notice the difference anyhow.
So next time you knowingly leave off a task when it's less than perfect, there's no need to give yourself a hard time. Instead, rejoice in the fact that you are perfectly in tune with an imperfect world. As Leonard Cohen puts it in his song: "Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
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