Perfection Wins Over Expedience

I remember once when Bill and I were kids we each got a model airplane kit.

I couldn’t wait to see my F-86 Sabre jet all together.  I quickly found the fuselage halves and stuck them together.  Then, before the airplane glue was dry, I attached the wings.  The fuselage came apart, so I glopped on more glue.  Before long, I had most of the pieces where they belonged.  Then I slapped on the decals and put the little pilot in his seat.  As always, I got glue stains on the clear acetate canopy.  I hated that.  But in an hour, I was flying sorties over the dog.

Model airplane

Bill was more meticulous.  He laid out all the parts of his Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star and read the instructions.  He took two pieces, did a trial fit, trimmed if necessary, carefully glued them, then left them to thoroughly dry.  It took him a week but when he was done his F-80 replica was flawless.  And with no glue stains anywhere, it looked so real.

That difference, expedience versus perfection, was the major distinction between us even though Bill and I were fraternal twins (our joke was we used to be womb mates.)  We were always best friends, but one of our few arguments came when, as teenagers, I asked Bill to redo with ink and stylus a sketch I had made in pencil.  I watched impatiently.  After any little ink blur he would crumple the copy and begin again.  Out of frustration I tried to salvage one of his rejects, but he tore it to pieces.

As we grew into adults, I became notorious for being impatient and fast in whatever I did.  Of course, what I did was rarely the best I could do, but I accomplished a lot.  Bill, on the other hand, became known as a perfectionist. He might frustrate those around him, but if and when he finished something, everyone praised the results.

Both of us enjoyed woodworking.  When his family visited ours, I’d show off my latest creation, a shelf or table, then humbly point out the gaps and gouges so he wouldn’t think I was unaware of my imperfection.  When we visited his family, he’d show me the cabinet he was working on and explain how it took him three tries to get the edges to match perfectly.

It was in our middle years that we talked about our different approaches.  I was urging him to take short cuts in completing a prototype product he wanted to bring to market—not to worry about the details because he was running out of time.  It was then that he explained to me his philosophy.

It’s important, he said, to have everything just right because if you don’t fix your mistakes, they’ll always stare back at you.  If it’s a task you hate, then making it perfect can bring enjoyment.  If it’s one you enjoy, then giving it perfection is easy.

Then he pointed out that whenever you do something, paint the house or carve a pumpkin, it is the doing that fills the time you call life.  It is the means, not the ends, that is the greater part of living.

I realized then that he was right.  My mistakes did stare back at me.  And I didn’t like it.  I decided to change.

At work and at home, I began to pay attention to details, to do each project as well as I could.  To this day, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, whenever something isn’t correct, I hear his words and pause.  I take a break, rethink, then go back to make it right.  Things take longer, and I’m still no perfectionist.  But I enjoy the doing more.

One horrible night several years ago, Bill died unexpectedly.  Words are useless to describe the loss to those who were close to him, including me, his imperfect twin.  Time has carried us away from him, but the shadow of his soul still moves in our memories, tangling sadness with gladness.

Looking back, I now see that his life showed me what he had told me.  That doing is the main part of life; so why not enjoy it.  That your mistakes don’t have to stare back at you; fix them when you can.  That if you take the time and care, you won’t get glue stains on the canopy.