Perfect.

 

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A fellow student farmer bounced up and down on the wood deck that we had just constructed for our new pig enclosure. “Is this okay?” he asked, concerned about its structural integrity. “It’s like a pig-poline.”

“We’re not building a spaceship,” our instructor replied. We all laughed.

At the same time, I couldn’t help but think back to this sign, which I saw hanging on the wall of the welding shop where we had our first welding class several months ago.

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“Never let good enough be enough.” In other words, make it perfect.

I was discussing this fascinating, seemingly dialectical dynamic a few days ago with some fellow student farmers. In some ways, farming is the art of figuring out what absolutely needs to be done perfectly and what can be done in a mediocre way because it needs to be done now.

Farming teaches us to stop obsessing with imperfect things that don’t really require perfection, and to instead concern ourselves with things that demand it. Pragmatic, economic, and ethical concerns–not our more base, perfectionist anxieties or desire for beautiful aesthetics–should shape our priorities. We need to worry about perfection when perfection is important, and learn to let things go when good enough really is enough.

The pigs won’t care if their deck isn’t perfectly flat, but metal won’t fuse to metal unless you weld carefully and slowly. The chickens can live with a crooked door, but a tractor implement that’s hooked up incorrectly can be dangerous.

For people like me who tend to be anxious and perfectionist by nature, it’s helpful to have some external metrics for what to perfect and prioritize, because I would try to do everything perfectly (and take forever to do it) if anyone would let me. It can be liberating to hear the message, “It doesn’t need to be perfect. It just needs to be done.”

Of course, it can be nerve-racking to be new at farming and not know what needs perfection and what doesn’t. But learning to differentiate when our desire for perfection is helpful, and when it’s simply an impediment to efficiency, is a skill that will serve us well whether we continue farming or not.