Striving for Progress

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

– Voltaire

This has become one of my go-to phrases over the years, though it was only in researching this article that I found out who originally said it.  Voltaire’s words apparently best translate to “the best is the enemy of the good,” but that makes me like the phrase even better because now I can appreciate how a little imperfection in the translation actually made it better.

Years before Gretchin Rubin brought this quote back in vogue in her 2009 chronicle The Happiness Project, I first heard this line from a bunch of crusty old CIA officers trying to train the new recruits. They’d fling Voltaire’s pearls before us swine with the same intensity they brought to every lesson, condemning our Type A-ness as a potentially life-threatening flaw, while, in the next breath, berating us for achieving anything less than 97 percent. (Of course, none of those guys ever attributed the quote to Voltaire, though I suspect that they kept the source to themselves out of a matter of habit rather than ignorance. That, and because admitting to knowing Voltaire would have put a chink in the battle-hardened, professor-of-the-real-world exterior they worked diligently to maintain.)

But Ms. Rubin and those cranky old men would all agree (a weird mental image, let me tell you) that perfection is illusory. It’s the destination you’ll never arrive at – the mirage on the horizon. It’s one more hill to climb; one of your own making! Chasing it is a waste of time and, possibly, a surfeit of hubris. Keep that in mind the next time you’re panting to get through one more round of revisions or the ‘perfect’ birthday craft project.

But if we’re not striving for perfection, what are we striving for? Personally, I’m on board with the wisdom of my son’s super-inspiring pre-K teachers who say “practice makes progress,” rather than the much more restrictive and anxiety-producing adage I grew up with.

Here’s the catch, and you Type A’s out there will have already identified this: if we’re exchanging perfection for progress as our goal, how do we know when we’ve hit the mark? How do we know when we’ve lived up to our full potential as writers, or *gulp!* parents? If we don’t have perfection as our destination, how can we tell if we’ve done enough?

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Handling First Day Of Camp Fears

Cara Martinisi is a wife and mother to three boys. Her oldest son lives in heaven. Cara is dedicated to helping families navigate life post child loss. She is a contributor to The Mighty and writes an inspirational blog about her journey through grief. She shares her unique outlook on child loss at www.christiansredballoon.com. As our guest blogger today, she reminds us to find the balance our own anxieties and those of our kids.

 

This morning as I sat editing my latest writing piece with an urgent feeling, my five year old son, Nicky, came to me, whining that he didn’t want to go to camp. My husband misspoke and told him to “Have a good day at camp!” He truly thought that it was the first day.  My husband didn’t realize that he had just ignited anxiety in my son. Of course he would never do that intentionally but upon hearing that he would be going to camp, Nicky panicked.

I wish I could say that I responded as I would have liked right from the start, but I didn’t. I continued on, editing this piece because that’s what I was having anxiety over! Camp didn’t begin today and I knew that we had time to deal with the issue. My writing piece however, was due today. As I kept my eyes and attention focused on my writing, Nicky carried on whining that he could not go anywhere without his mommy and daddy. He said he was scared to be without us! This was, of course, not true. He had just completed a year at preschool! He went on playdates without us! He was just trying to play me! Admittedly this was all probably part of the reason why I ignored his whining and responded by telling him, in a frustrated voice, that camp was not starting today!!! Who wants to hear their kid whine? Especially when attempting to attend to an urgent matter of your own.

Once it became clear that I would not be able to focus on my own anxiety and writing piece, I looked up and actually saw my son. Immediately I was reminded about a book I am reading called, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, by Meg Meeker, M.D. The premise of the book is to help mothers develop healthy relationships with their sons. Meeker writes, “Every mother has to start the process of building an emotional vocabulary when her son is young and do her best to help him acknowledge and express appropriate feelings in the healthiest manner possible.” My tactics of simply telling my son that he had nothing to worry about was not in line with that philosophy.

My writing piece could wait. It was clear that the anxiety about having to start camp was torturing this poor five year old. The self-deprecating voice in my head would just have to wait now too! I would have to deal with my own conscience about how I treated him later. Right now, he needed me. My children are, and have always been, my priority.

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