Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good
For me, this is life lesson No. 1.
By Anthony Valterra
My grandfather was a dairy farmer. When my family went to visit him, we would inevitably end up helping him with the farm. Sometimes we would mend fences, or herd cattle, or feed cattle, or milk. It depended on what needed to be done, and (it being a farm) something always needed to be done. Very often, as we were coming close to finishing a job, my grandfather would intone, “gednuff fer oo es fur.” My grandfather had an Oklahoma accent that was further conflated with a Midwestern accent and then rolled into a Western accent. He then used this mélange to regularly sauté all kinds of bon mots. He would occasionally say
Not today, but tonight!
I had no idea what that meant. I’m still not 100 percent sure. Nor did I know what “gednuff fer oo es fur” meant. But I did know that once those sacred words were said, we stopped working. So I was always happy to hear them.
It took me until I was an adult and had moved to Minnesota to go to college before I figured out how to translate those words. “Gednuff fer oo es fur” translates into standard English as “Good enough for who it is for.” My grandfather was passing on great wisdom, and I didn’t know it.
He was teaching me that good is often “good enough” and that chasing perfection is both fruitless and counterproductive. The job was done when it was good enough. Spending more time on it to make it “better” was wasting time. And on a farm there was never time to waste. This is a truth that is valuable in all times, but in these times it is even more vital.
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Lisa and I do a lot of projects. And we do them to the best of our abilities. But we don’t try to chase perfection. If we did, we would get one thing done nearly perfectly (since perfection is impossible), and we would not do 100 other projects that may be vital for our future. Our garden is not perfect. It has plants growing where we don’t want them. It has plants not growing where we do want them. It has chunks of cement that we have left in the garden and jokingly call “object d’art” because they are too heavy to easily move.
Lisa has started pruning our fruit trees. Has she mentored under an arborist? Obtained a degree in orchard management? No. She’s taken one class, read some books, watched some videos, and plunged in. We are both sure she is making some mistakes, but we can’t afford for her to become credentialed in tree pruning before the trees get pruned.
And that is the other part of perfection that is a problem. One wastes time chasing it and, very often, one puts off starting something waiting for the perfect moment, skill, knowledge, equipment, etc. Right now there are people all across America and the rest of the world who are realizing that having a garden might be a really good idea. Currencies everywhere are debasing (becoming worthless). Debasement of a currency means inflation, which means the prices of everything goes up, and that includes groceries. And if we somehow manage to avoid inflation, then there is the strong possibility of a deep recession, in which case jobs may disappear. So it may be that you have money, but everything is too expensive to buy, or it may be that everything is affordable, but you have no money because you’ve lost your job. Who knows, maybe we will get the perfect storm and experience both—high inflation and a recession. Whatever the case, lowering your grocery bill even a little bit would help.
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But if you’re thinking, “Well, I can’t start farming until I can grow enough food to feed my family,” you are letting the idea of being perfectly self-sufficient hold you back from doing a small but good thing. Remember this shaggy monster?
As I pointed out in my article Hügelkultur 2: revenge of the mound, this dandy herb-growing hill can be about as small as you want. Ours is about three feet tall and about six feet in diameter. You could fit that into a very tiny backyard. And you would have herbs year round. But what if even that isn’t doable? Maybe you live in an apartment? Then try container gardening.
We are taking a swing at growing stevia, rosemary, and basil year round by bringing them indoors in the winter. Will we succeed? Who knows? But we won’t let the fear of failing, or the fear of not doing it perfectly, stop us from trying.
As the Stark clan (of Game of Thrones) pointed out, “Winter Is Coming.” And it is better to have done even a little than nothing at all. And besides, you are the only one who will judge the results of your efforts, because everything is alway gednuff fer oo es fur.
What life lessons seem particularly applicable to you right now, given the current global situation?
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