80-20 to 50-50

So how about that election, huh? Don’t worry, that’s all I have to say about that.

Every morning I get an inspirational text delivered to my phone. Most days it’s something I glance at and immediately forget because I’m not really struggling with anything. Some days it relates eerily well to something giving me trouble. Occasionally I have no idea what it even means, as was the case early last week with this message:

Sometimes the good is the enemy of the best. 

I could not for the life of me figure out what that meant. I didn’t think to google it, or I didn’t want to, but I didn’t stop puzzling over what it meant. Then we were watching tv Friday night and it came up in the context of don’t settle for good when you can have better. The oddest thing in all of this is we were watching Basic Instinct (don’t judge me) so now I think maybe I hallucinated the whole thing.

The next morning I googled the quote, only in typical fashion I got it backwards and searched this:

The best is the enemy of the good. 

I like this quote better. It basically means stop trying to achieve perfection because it doesn’t exist. This led me to the pareto principle, also known as the 80-20 rule. Typically it’s used in business models, ie 80% of a company’s revenue may come from 20% of their customers.  I was more intrigued by the idea that it takes 20% of our time to complete 80% of a task. The remaining 80% of that time is often used to try and achieve a possibly impossible state of perfection.

Oh god, can I relate to this. The last, sizable step of any project I undertake goes to undoing my attempts at perfection.

Yesterday I read a post on why Good Enough Isn’t that hit home. The author talks about taking a break from something and coming back to it with a set of fresh eyes and making the needed changes to put the project to bed. He also talks about good not being good enough, which I also relate to. Good enough is dangerous for me because in recovery I’ve learned I must grow or perish. But growth can be slow, which feels natural and realistic to maintain in the long run.

This leads to middle ground, a compromise between both quotes. Good is enough for me until it isn’t. I usually know when this happens because I start to feel restless and discontent. When I started running earlier this year, it was because I felt tired of walking. It didn’t satisfy me anymore, so I started running and struggled like hell the first few months but stuck with it. Fortunately running offers an abundance of challenges, but even so I’ve tried to stay tuned to my body for signs of when I need to push ahead or even scale back my goals. This system seems to work for me.

One final thought on the 80-20 rule. I can’t focus on 100% of the things I want to change myself. I can’t even focus on 80% of them because 1) I’d fail 2) I know I’d fail so I wouldn’t even try in the first place so I’d, uh, fail. I’m much better off focusing on the top 20% of the things I need to work on. I’m comfortable relying on instinct to tell me when it’s time to move on to something else. I’ll continue to work on my burning desire to make everything perfect, aka a complete mess.

The answer lies in balance and finding and maintaining it. Good thing this seems to get magically, mysteriously easier to pursue the longer I am without a drink.


9 thoughts on “80-20 to 50-50

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  1. Thanks for the shout out! i’m flattered. i’m glad you got that i’m not trying to make myself perfect, because i understand that’s not an option, but that i’m trying to be on guard against complacency and laziness when it comes to my happiness.

    i also love the expression “‘Better’ is the enemy of ‘good'”. i first heard it in French (my wife said it’s by Voltaire) as a translation of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    i guess the message is: Knowing when to stop working on oneself is just as important as knowing when to start!


    1. When I read your post and saw that it related so well to the thoughts I’d been swirling around in my head, I felt how cool that was. Seems like many of us are on the same page around the same time.


  2. Loved this bbb. Made me think of a few Ann Lamott quotes I shared a few weekends ago:

    “Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

    “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


    In the comments, I loved what Carrie Rubin shared, “one of my favorite quotes is derived from a Voltaire quote: “Perfectionism is the enemy of done.”

    Great post, as usual, my friend. 🙂


    1. I remember that post and those quotes well. Interesting how many quotes there are on this subject. Guess we’re not the first ones to struggle with this, huh? 😉

      Thank you for your kind words and wisdom, as always.


  3. I really needed to read this today. Lately, I feel I’m at the other end of the spectrum, wallowing in a bit of a mess of things. Not trying very hard to overcome a small sense of apathy about work. On the other hand, it occurred to me that with a huge move under my belt, it may be time to recharge. Thanks so much for sharing.


  4. Great post! Slight laugh here…running has been so great for me. I’m not really a religious person but every Sunday when I head out for my long run I find myself in my church. I can’t describe it but I love when I meet people that “get it”. Good…isn’t always enough. Always find myself wanting more. Hence running marathons now not 5ks…make sure your husband knows what a slippery slope this healthy habbit can become (not to mention cute workout clothes). Good Luck!


  5. I read this a few times. There is so much great thought for me. I appreciate the last part (I loved it all, really) where you talk about “relying on instinct” … for me this is the root of all my recovery (aka life). Learn to tune into/allow instinct. And then acting in accordance with that instinct. Sometimes I know a response/action is instinctively correct, but a choose against it. Learning … I still have plenty of learning to do … so I can make it “perfect, aka not perfect” … brilliant post. Thank you


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