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Connections: A Pause in the Pursuit of Perfection

July 22, 2014

A Pause in the Pursuit of Perfection

In the arts-and-crafts stage of my life, which was a couple of decades ago, I did a lot of needlework. I’m remembering one piece in particular, a sampler, with the traditional letters and numbers and quote (“’Tis a gift to be simple”), on fabric that looked like burlap, but wasn’t. I’m mostly a perfectionist when it comes to needlework, because that’s just how I am, and because I don’t have a good enough eye for color and design to stray from the pattern that’s before me.

On this sampler, I worked the first line of letters, in block print, A through H. Then I worked the second line, I through Q. And sometime in the second line, I realized the second line wasn’t lining up with the first line according to the pattern; I was one vertical row off. “Can’t be one row off,” I muttered, “must be a problem with the pattern.” So I stopped the needlework, and started reviewing the pattern, and counting my stitches. I found the error, which was mine, not the pattern’s. On the letter B, I had made the straight line of the letter three rows wide instead of two, which impacted the length of the total line.

To fix it, I would need to tear out and re-stitch the first line from the letter A on, literally hours of work. I seriously considered it, and then decided that I would leave that line as I had stitched it, with the error in the stem of B. It was not an error that was easily visible, and it did not affect the balance of the finished work. It would be a reminder to me that not everything had to be perfect, that imperfections were, and are, a part of life. So, I finished the sampler, noting that the quote seemed especially apt on this one, had it framed, and hung it in my office, as a daily reminder of the imperfections in life.

I shared the story of the sampler, and my experience with leaving the imperfect B in place, with many friends and colleagues. I didn’t tell them where to find the imperfection, and most, even with careful scrutiny, didn’t spot it. Another lesson there….

Now, I hasten to say that pursuit of perfection is important and expected in many aspects of our lives. Skills in health care would be at the top of that list! The stem of my B was off by 50%; a 50% error in health care procedures would be disastrous for the patient and for the profession. Likewise, those functions of our College that are audited, both financial and outcome assessments, are worthy of our pursuit of perfection. The standard is clear, the standard is attainable, and we want to meet that standard 100% of the time.

But in those aspects of our lives where we are creative, and inventive, and thoughtful, the pursuit of perfection may be a hindrance. Getting it “perfect” may keep us from doing it at all—or from trying a new approach, a fresh perspective, or a different idea. And I think this is especially true in our relationships with others, which are hardly ever perfect. We all hope for the relationships with friends and colleagues and family members that are genuine, respectful, caring, forgiving, loving, and joyful—and if there’s the equivalent of a B stem that’s one column too wide in the relationship, and there always is, well, that’s just part of the texture and rhythm of life.

To Think About...

“Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.” Goethe

Marilyn Moore, EdD President
Bryan Health
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