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Perfect vs. Good

Balancing between perfection and wiping out on the Slip 'n Slide of life

“Practice makes perfect.”
“Perfect is the enemy of the good.”
So don’t practice.

The perfect excuse for any kid looking to get out of unwanted work. (Excuse the pun.)

As if that’s not enough to grind any parent’s teeth, the philosophers and religious folks have to kick in their two cents, too, proclaiming perfection is beyond our human grasp. Which again lends credence to the kid’s (think: teen’s) argument that there’s no point practicing their piano scales or drilling mathematics into their head.

Kids. You gotta love them. No wonder parents resort to the tried-and-true “because I say so” argument.

Here’s a better retort for parents: None of that is an excuse for complacency. Mediocrity. Just getting by.

Sure, there are plenty of people out there who have no problem with coasting through life on minimal effort. But are they happy? Feeling fulfilled? Maybe yes, maybe no, but I bet that if you’re reading this post that you’re one of the many others of us who truly want to do our best in life and prove ourselves worthy in our own eyes and those of our friends, family, and society.

We’re not looking for excuses. And we know that coasting through life can turn into one big Slip 'n Slide. Fun while it lasts, but you'll probably just get soaked and end up crashing into something.

Balance. Do your best. Within reason.

Perfection sounds like the ideal, but there's a catch

Are you the type that gets caught up at the other end of the effort spectrum?

Seeking perfection?

Trying to get things “just right?”

Guilty! I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist all my life, especially in areas where I pride myself. I can’t just dash off a quick article; I need to craft it “just so” – tightening the prose, balancing the sentences, making sure that the idea is expressed clearly and concisely. Same thing with my acting and voiceover work. I can spend WAY too much time preparing and tweaking a performance until its originally creative, organic life gets squeezed out of it by technical “improvements.”

And that’s how an actor can be sure NOT to get booked. On TV and in film, where the camera magnifies everything, a character’s reactions must seem fresh and alive. The actor has to learn to live in the moment as the character, as if experiencing everything for the first time. It’s a terrific exercise in letting go of perfectionism.

Really, there’s no advantage in trying to figure out the perfect performance, because casting itself is so subjective. It comes down to what the casting director has in mind for the role. Or the director, producer, showrunner, or network executive. Everyone’s mental image is different. And then an actor can show a very different interpretation that captivates the decision-maker, and suddenly the character is reimagined in a completely new direction.

There’s also the very real possibility that a friend or relative is cast in a role that’s supposedly up for grabs. Or that the decision is made to “round out” an ensemble cast with actors of varying physical qualities, and so the choice is made beyond performance quality alone. Just because an actor doesn’t win a role – and only one person can be cast per role (unless you’re talking about very young child actors or baby twins who share a role) – doesn’t mean that his performance wasn’t good. It just wasn’t the best choice for the project at that particular time.

Of course, actors are never told any of this, which is why so many suffer from self-doubt stemming from rejection after rejection. It takes some backbone to soldier on. But embracing perfectionism won’t help.

An alternative to perfectionism

What does work? Flexibility, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn from others.

These qualities are valued in many fields, but here's how they play out in the actor's world.

Actors have to be flexible and open to interpreting a character’s goals, motives, and behaviors from different viewpoints. A new perspective can dramatically change how a character is played. As an example, imagine a plot in which a character is engaged in illegal activity. That character can be played as someone who’s chosen a life of crime. Or as someone out for revenge. Or as one naively involved in something they don’t understand. Or forced to break the law to save a loved one. All different performances. Each scenario creates a new set of reasons for the character to be doing what he is doing. And how well he is doing it, his tactics, and the hurdles he has to overcome.

The last thing an actor wants to do is to lock himself into one idea that he considers perfect. When auditioning or at a callback, it’s not unusual to be asked to try the scene in a different way. The casting director wants to see if the actor has range. And the ability to be directed. It’s essential, especially if you’re on a TV show with a script that can be revised up to the moment of filming. It’s the actor’s job to adjust and deliver those modified lines ASAP.

Improvisation is one of the best exercises to flex that adaptability muscle. I especially love the improv games where lines and directions are thrown around like so many balls and you have to learn to catch, toss back, and redirect them instantaneously. No room for complacency there! Improv is one of the best skills to have in an actor’s toolbelt, so that we’re ready and able to handle whatever may be thrown at us.

Good work delivered on time and within budget is more valuable than an idea never realized.

Real world considerations

There’s no sliding by in the actor’s world – or really, in any other profession either. People expect you to be able to do your job. Whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, employers and clients are not going to be thrilled at receiving work that’s just barely acceptable or just misses the mark. And on the other end of the spectrum – perfectionism – the time and energy invested in grooming something to that “just right” state doesn’t play too well, either.

When does perfectionism apply? When time and money play a secondary role to the critical importance of getting things “just right,” as in medical, technical, and scientific research and mathematical studies. Even so, there is pressure to find the right answers quickly and within budget. It’s the bane of researchers and scientists everywhere.

In the business world, considerations of time and money trump delivering a perfected product. Executives and employees are expected to make smart decisions quickly and perform expediently. Time is the enemy of perfection. And face it: there’s only so much that can be done within 24 hours.

Individuals prone to perfectionism may find themselves in a bind, facing difficult choices: are you willing to miss deadlines to perfect what you’re working on? Are you willing to annoy or anger other people who are depending on you? Will you even have a deliverable when they need it? Most of the time, employers and client alike would rather have something that’s good and on time than a possible masterpiece-in-the-making that’s never finished. Or is terribly over-budget or draining resources from other areas.

Laura's Quick Tips

  1. Perfection is a fine ideal, but the real world needs something a bit more practical. A balance.

  2. Good work delivered on time and within budget is more valuable than an idea never realized.

  3. Adaptability, flexibility, and open-mindedness provide more opportunities for success than a rigid mindset.

This is not to say that the quest for perfection is worthless. Perfection makes a fine ideal. Reach for the stars. Imagine what can be. And work towards it. Just remember that it’s an ideal. Unless you’re truly financially independent and not beholden to others with deadlines, you work within constraints of time and resources. Focus on what you can deliver, prioritize, and follow through. Chances are that you’ll find most success that way.

Interested in learning more about keeping - and maintaining - a balanced perspective? Read more about it here >

Laura Doman smiling

I'm Laura Doman, a former tech industry sales executive, hands-on mom, voice & TV/film actress, and improv performer. I create memorable characters that tell my client's stories, from the friendly CEO touting new upgrades to your sassy best gal pal dispensing some necessary, real-world advice...Let's Talk!


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