Get your motor runnin’, Day 3: Enemy of the good


Anyone who has been (a) paying attention and (b) reading this outside of a feed reader knows that the tagline of this conglomeration of oddities is, and has been from Day One, “A Virgo’s Guide to the Universe.”

And, in a master stroke of irony, anyone who has not is not a Virgo.

I am asked sometimes what the extent of my belief in the woo-woo is. Not as frequently nor with such pointed annoyance as happened during my years with The Chief Atheist, but still, enough to warrant a policy disclosure. And said disclosure goes something like, “I believe in horoscopes, fortunes and other non-scientifically-based predictors of the future when they portend great things, and woo-woo stuff in general when it provides an interesting framework with which to puzzle out a problem.

The Virgo thing is just such a framework.

As I say in the “about” page of the new marketing project blog thingy, Virgos are “all about the order-from-chaos, the meticulous noting of things: we’re, like, the Information Butlers of the world.” We’re the ones who ask for (and get) bright yellow filing cabinets for our 13th birthdays, which sometimes fall on Friday, the 13th, which doesn’t freak us out in the least but which we think is really rather cool and orderly.

We’re the ones who don’t just create doll villages, but come up with full names, back stories and family trees for the 80-odd (very odd) residents. And type up a town newspaper. With columns. On a typewriter. A manual typewriter.

We’re the ones who not only compile to-do lists but add any items we’ve already done to the lists, so that a complete record is in place.

We’re the ones constantly coming up with better systems, when we’re not stubbornly clinging to old, outmoded ones, because promise of perfection is constantly just there, one elusive, perfect system/hack/hashtag away.

There is a saying that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” Actually, it is a quote from Voltaire, and thus originally in French (Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien”), and, it could be argued (and is, quite persuasively, here) that the actual translation is “The best is the enemy of the good.” This thin-slicing of hairs is not my point; my point is this:

If you go after perfect, you lose. Because it will never be perfect. And I’m a Virgo, and I know from this shit, because I wrassle that particular bear almost every day. I’ve gotten into fights over the placement of a preposition in a headline. I’ve lost tens of thousands of dollars of income fretting over a tenth of an em-space in kerning. That’s an imprecise example, but hey, I write this blog the way I do, all at once, very little editing, unlike other bits of writing like my columns and my newsletter, because this blog is about letting go of the perfect to get at more of the good.

Like everything else I talk about here, I bring this up now because I’m working on no less than three projects which will kill me, KILL ME DEAD, if I do not submit to the truth that the perfect is the enemy of the good. That blog project thingy I mentioned earlier. An upcoming (god help me) webinar on pricing that I’m co-presenting with my marketing coach, Ilise. And a new song that has to come out this week, or not at all, because it’s got a whole new year’s theme thing to it. (Well, okay, it could come out NEXT year, I guess, but that would suck all the more.)

Let us swear an oath, you and I: let us make 2009 the year we stopped letting the perfect be the enemy of the good more of the time than not. Or even, if you like, more of the time than we have before.

Or, hell, why not go for the whole ball of wax, the year we at least introduced the thought into our working vocabularies.

This post? Not perfect.

And I’m not going back to fix anything, save to add a picture.

Your comments? THROW THEM THE HELL OUT THERE. Don’t edit! Go crazy! This one time, I will not judge you! Or myself!

And in return, when I put up the half-baked, not-as-perfect-as-I’d-like song, I hope you will be supportive. Because I’m only human, and it’s going to be rough, taking the slings and arrows from the Great General YouTube Coliseum Community.

Even if you don’t, though, even if you snicker a little at this or at that, when it comes out, I’m hanging tough.

Because friends, this is one advanced-syllabus lesson I’m learning. And at the end of 2009, I want it learned.

Well, as much as I can do, anyway…


P.S. I’m not even CHECKING this in PREVIEW mode. Look at me go!

Image by Jo Jakeman via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Colleen, I so hear you on this! I’m not even a Virgo, but I must have been one in the last ten lives, because this is a clear and present lesson for me, as well. “All about the order-from-chaos..” Yeah – that’s practically verbatim how I market my book, which is a log book for writing down every little detail of a baby’s eating, sleeping and pooping schedule.

    Another example? I read Getting Things Done (which I highly recommend, btw) over one weekend, bought all the files, the label-maker, the 3-tiered in-basket, and fully implemented the system by Monday.

    As I said, many lives (rhymes with wives) a Virgo…

    That all said, I am so, so proud of you for embracing your inner imperfectionist! I can’t wait to hear your song, YouTubers be damned. (They are a nasty bunch, aren’t they? What is up with that?!)

    I will join you on this 2009 pledge, sister! (Although I guess I will be starting tomorrow. I just edited my comment. Oops.)

  2. Ok. Are you sure that first part doesn’t apply to Libras somehow? Or maybe something is rising in some house of the sun or the moon or some such thingy? Because the perfectionism thing? whoo boy!

    I used to introduce myself in certain circumstances as “Hi, I’m NFH and I’m a perfectionist.”

    Also, when I went to graduate school (after my last nervous breakdown) (and by last I hope I mean ‘final’ and not ‘most recent) I made a point of talking personally with every single professor to tell them that I would be taking every class I possibly could as Pass/Fail because I was a recovering perfectionist. “I’m a tourist in the land of ‘good enough.’ I have a map and a flashlight, but I might need a guide.”

    (God help me, I went back and fixed those single/double quote marks.)

    Everyone laughed, like it was a joke.

    And my class mates mocked me when I would turn in research papers that were twice as long as everyone else’s and my excuse was “But I was interested in the subject. I did it for me not the grade!” Apparently, I have high standards. Who knew?

    But it really was more fun not to obsess about some of those details. Even if it bugged me just a little bit to know those mistakes were there.

    The biggest bug-a-boo for me is the paralysis. Knowing that I don’t have time, or energy (or interest?) to do something “perfectly” means I never start. This most often rears it’s ugly head around issues of housekeeping chores.

    All that is to say that like you, I’m still learning that lesson. Still a tourist in the land of ‘good enough.’ And you have company fighting this one moment by moment.

    So, yes. This is in the warp and woof of my goals for 2009.

  3. I’m a Taurus, and while we’re not quite as detail-oriented as Virgos, we’re close. Let’s just say I strongly resisted taking swimming lessons as a child because of my fear that I somehow wouldn’t be perfect. My entire adult life has been devoted to understanding ‘good enough’.

    Anyhow, not a perfect comment, but I feel your pain. I have small children crawling on me, so I can’t manage better. They’ll help you let go of perfection right quick, let me tell you. ;-)

    I wish you luck (and goodness!) in your quest for less-than-perfect.

  4. I’m a Leo but must have been a “Virgo” somewhere along the line because “perfectionism” has been a a thorn in my side for it seems like forever. Arrrgh! Sometimes I don’t do things because I cna’t possible do them to satisfy that perfectionist that lives inside of me. I despise cleaning house but like order so, now that I can afford it I have it done. I realized that I could never clean to my own satisfaction hence why bother. Ha! Now that I have a housekeeper once a week, it is nice. Is she perfect at it? No but hey I’m okay with that. Ive learned to keep things picked up without being perfect about it also Yea! Now if only my puppies could learn to pick up their toys. Hmmmmm! Regardless, I love the little buggers
    I see that this is not a perfect reply but that’s okay. I will not change a thing. Life goes on….

  5. if i may perhaps insert a damn-the-torpedos-full-speed-ahead right ’bout here?

    my own version of ‘perfectionalising’ is the cloying goop that i muck about in in lieu of getting-to-it …

    ouch … and, as is frequently the case, with huge thanks for the well formed [unedited] expression of IT :)

  6. Just wanted to add that I have the same paralysis, perfectionist, fear thing going on and I’m a Sagittarius. So it’s not just Virgo-it’s bigger than that and a whole lot more pervasive.

    Thanks for the great ideas and writing. I’m going to try the 21 day thing with my yoga.

  7. Along the same lines, I constantly have to remind myself of this one thing: most end-points to a project do not have the finality that I often associate them to. Sure sometimes done is done and a deadline is a deadline. But often, I just need to keep doing, keep creating, keep getting stuff out there, heading back here and there to refine it along the way. The alternative is getting nothing done because nothing is perfect (and never will be).

  8. Alexis – Song out tomorrow. Gloriously imperfect, believe me. (And thanks for the link!)

    NFH – Dirty secret is that perfectionism knows no boundaries when it comes to the zodiac. Neither does sloth, for that matter. The Virgo thing is just a hack.

    Amber – Yow! That’s so sad! Did you ever overcome it and learn to swim? Not that I like swimming much, but I think I’d hate drowning more.

    Cathy – Puppies picking up toys would be better than a fleet of Roombas.

    Joyce – I know the Goop well. And you’re welcome. We all do what we can!

    Jan – You mean, even yoginis have problems with perfectionism? :-)

    Annie – Good girl. I expect to see some GOOD OUTPUT from you this year. Or at least, a large quantity of output.

  9. Thank you — this is exactly what I needed to hear! One of my most respected mentors used to quote “perfect is the enemy of the good” to me all the time. But I still have problems putting it to work.

    In fact, I wasn’t going to reply, because I really shouldn’t reply until I have my blog set up to include as a link…. but I haven’t set up the blog because I haven’t finished the website that it will be part of… meanwhile great ideas go undone waiting for everything to be perfect.

    I love your blog — thank you so much.

  10. All Virgos really do have the SAME CHILDHOOD.

    I was obsessed with cleaning my Strawberry Shortcake table at age 5. My parents were sure something was wrong with me. I used to clean my friend’s room and her mom would pay me. I once sent my American Girl doll back to the company because I was dissatisfied with her hair. It wasn’t perfect. They put a new head on her for me. I never used any of my Sanrio notebooks because I didn’t want to ruin them.

    And I grew up to be the freak that I am.

    This actually WAS a perfect post, perfect in sentiment. We’re all rooting for you and looking forward to seeing what you come up with this year!

  11. Lori – Baby steps! We were all there, once, and we all made it here, wherever “here” is. I’m glad to be of some help (and amusement, where possible) on the journey.

    Dana – Haha. I saved an entire set of original Wacky Packs. I would only put the DOUBLES on my notebooks. Fat lot of good it did me; those stickers that would have been so valuable wound up sold off in an odd lot of storage crap. (Long, sad story for Virgos…for another time.)

    As The Youngster likes to say, “Don’t save ‘happy.'”

  12. Oh my God, Colleen, you are my hero. I’m completely addicted to your blog. I don’t even know what the hell to say except that if you were here, I’d totally be giving you a huge hug and a wet, sloppy kiss.

  13. Read the Networker column (specific helpocity), Eating the Elephant, and the above. I did 3 1/2 years of therapy which helped me let go of a lot of my perfectionism issues, but it’s been almost four years since and I’ve been noticing it creep back in, so it’s great to have you address it in your columns.

    I can tell because it has been screwing up my auditions, I have an overwhelming need to do SuDoku, and it almost physically hurt me to read the above article as you kept saying you didn’t edit it.

    Thank you for not just not editing, but for pointing out that you weren’t going to — I have so many unwritten blog posts NOT on my actor page because I wanted to do it just right.

    sorry, I edited a little, but I’m leaving that lowercase “s” at the beginning of this sentence as a first step. :)

    P.S. LOVE the song!

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