“You can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

I was attending a three-day change management training with about 15 other people from various industries. We had been working on in-class projects and presentations, and one man from a well-known tech company casually said to a classmate as he plugged away at his project, “You can’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

As a very slowly recovering perfectionist, that was refreshing music to my ears. The pursuit of perfection isn’t always a damaging venture if done carefully. We know it takes hours, days, and years of practice, feedback, reflection, and mindful change to see improvement and positive outcomes whether it is in the workplace, home, school, the dojang, or anywhere. I still work on white belt fundamentals and lower level forms (Taeguk and Palgwe) because I know they are the foundation under the layers of black belt polish.

Perfectionism can be destructive if we let it overtake our thoughts and actions. What was once motivating becomes painful, self-deprecating, and stressful. We agonize over details that may not matter to the big picture and deplete our self-esteem if we set impossibly high expectations. We get stuck in “analysis paralysis” and never move forward.

That’s when “good” waltzes in to take the reins from perfect. “Good” stops us from second- and triple-guessing ourselves and picking to death what might actually be a great performance or product. Accepting good over perfect takes some bravery and a little bit of risk. We still need to strive for quality, but it shouldn’t be at the sacrifice of our well-being and confidence.

I’m working on a big writing project right now that has needed some tweaking and honing, but I think I’ve passed the point of healthy perfectionism and risk sliding into destructive perfectionism. I can’t leave it alone. Part of me is tempted to scrap the whole thing and start over or just leave it behind altogether…but I don’t want to do that, so I’m going to have to be brave and let it move onto its next phase. I’m going to have to go with “good” so it has a chance to breathe and grow.

And how does this translate to martial arts? Taekwondo is highly technical, so there’s a bit of perfectionism or at least picky attention to detail that can be helpful. At some point, though, we need to stop thinking and start kicking. In my last post I wrote about a boy who seemed like he was goofing around during a sparring match when I realized he was experimenting. He was trying new and different things without waiting until they were flawless. Practicing was the only way he could learn what worked well and what didn’t.

My former Master once said if you are focused on being perfect and don’t have any challenges then you stagnate. Perfect becomes the enemy of good, and progress slows to a halt.

Are you good? Then move forward. That’s the nice thing about good–there’s still lots of room to grow beyond what you thought was possible.


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