I’ve forgotten where I read it, but I just came across this quotation again: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” It wasn’t the first time I’d encountered it – I’ve seen variations on this expression before – but for some reason, it struck a chord with me this time. Blame it on the start of a new year.
I take these words to mean that if you insist on something unattainable, you’re not going to get anywhere at all. This is different from having high standards. Standards are good.
I thought about this quote as I engaged in one of my familiar annual rituals, shopping for a new day planner. If you can wait until the week after Christmas, and there’s anything left, calendars are on sale 50% off then.
Even though I buy one each year about the same time, this item is something I never ask for as a gift. It feels too personal. Symbolic of so much, it carries with it the hopes and dreams – as well as the problems – of another year. I simply must pick it out myself.
And so I found myself trolling the aisles of one of the major chain bookstores on a recent Sunday evening in search of the “right” one. If asked to describe what, exactly, I was searching for, I would be hard pressed to articulate it. “I’ll know it when I see it,” is all I would be able to say truthfully. My husband generously tries to help in the hunt, but since he doesn’t really know what he’s supposed to be looking for, it makes it difficult.
I don’t keep a journal, so the day planners I acquire each year are the closest thing I have to something that tells the story of the year, and how it all unfolded. By year’s end, the once pristine pages will be marked up this way and that with a combination of pencil, pen and even highlighter. Envelopes, photographs and the odd scrap of paper will have cluttered the inside of the front cover. Paperclips will mark a page here and there.
I’ve saved my day planners dating back to the year I graduated from college. They are black and brown and red and gold, and a dusty rose color. Their covers sport cherries and flowers and whimsical designs. There’s 14 of them in all, and 2011 adds a 15th to the collection. One thing I’ve noticed over the years (other than having way better handwriting than I did back in the day) is that I’ve gotten considerably wordier in my calendar notations. Where I would once have written in a friend’s birthday in 1996 or a reminder like “call business office about next bill,” 15 years later such an entry might be accompanied by a paragraph of narrative. There have been other changes in that span of time, too. I had to smile as I came across this, from April 20, 1996: “Buy word processor ribbon.” Or this note from May 10 that year: “Pick up film at Eckerd’s.”
This time I passed up several planners I liked with contemporary designs that were made in China, eventually selecting a small, slim plaid book handcrafted in Maine, whose cover the manufacturer described as “durable” and “stain resistant,” qualities I wish I could wrap the whole year in and protect it from being marred. But of course that isn’t possible.
This year 2010 has been a hard year, and I’m ready for it to be over. The year ahead stretches out across the pages of my brand new day planner bare, clean and uncluttered like my frozen yard in winter. The story of another year has yet to be written. What will it say? I’ve known people who, when faced with doing something “perfectly” or “not at all,” would unfortunately choose “not at all.” I will forge ahead in my resolutions for the new year, mindful that progress is often imperfect.
Hope Yancey is a counselor and freelance writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina