Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best.
– St. Jerome
How often did I hear this poem, while growing up! And, to be honest, I still hear it as an adult. It was quite literally my family’s mantra to just about everything (and by ‘family mantra,’ I mean that it was a guiding philosophy on one side of my family for at least four generations): always driven to excel, to do our best; and always so critical of ourselves (and each other) when our best efforts yielded even the slightest of flaws. As an adult, I have slowly pulled myself away from this mentality. As I wrote in this post – also about perfectionism – I see the pursuit of perfection as one thing, and the obsession with perfection as quite another. There is simply nothing logical in being obsessed with perfection – just pathological. It’s a will-o-wisp, leading people further into a bog that gets harder and harder to find the way back out of.
I do not necessarily equate a desire to do well, or even an admiration of the St. Jerome quote, as a pathology for most people. I know simply from my own experiences, with myself and the rest of my family, that this can be taken to an unhealthy, excessive level. It’s a level that, once there, becomes difficult to disengage from, as our society tends to richly reward those who develop the next, greatest, biggest things. Some might even say that not trampling over our own souls to achieve at this level is actually the unhealthy behavior. Words like ‘slacker’ exist, and are difficult to work around. If you don’t believe me, when looking for your next job opportunity, flesh out your applications or resumes with phrases like ‘satisfied,’ or ‘contented,’ and see how many doors that opens.
I have moved myself to a point where I ask myself about what I’m doing, and whether or not I want to give that action my best efforts. I feel healthier as a result – yes, there are times when I still chase after that which can’t be caught; but at least I’m honest with myself about this before I even set out after it. It makes the chase more of a game for me; and I’m not as critical of myself for not having accomplished what I knew I couldn’t accomplish anyway. I even ‘broke with family tradition’ by responding to the family mantra once with my own new and improved version of it:
Good, better, best. You should have let it be, because the good was already good enough, you were just too proud to see.
I’ve always been the black sheep of my family … since I responded with this, no one in my family has dared to utter the St. Jerome quote in my presence.
Sometimes, just reminding ourselves that we have a choice is enough to bring us to a healthier path.