"When I was in my early 20s, one of my favorite clinicians was in the habit of quoting Voltaire: "The perfect is the enemy of the good". At the time, my reaction was to roll my eyes and shrug. To me, this sounded weak, uncommitted, defeatist. I heard it as "Drop your standards, embrace mediocrity." This might suit riders who didn't know or care enough to want their riding to be perfect, but it certainly didn't apply to me! That was then. Now, with 30-plus years of teaching behind me, I often find myself quoting Voltaire.
Perfection is ideal and flawless. It is beyond excellent and cannot be improved. "Good" is a positive achievement that leaves room for improvement. "Good" does not mean "mediocre". Consider the fact that in dressage competitions, a score of 10 signifies excellent, not perfect. This is an important distinction. Even excellence can, and should be, improved on. There's a serious downside to an obsession with perfection.
Striving to be perfect means to be reaching for the unattainable. For some riders, this thought is inspiring or even comforting: "I can always improve, I can always do better, there's always room to grow, and I will never be bored." For other riders, the concept of "perfect" is overwhelming and demoralizing. Their perfectionism leads first to procrastination and then to inertia. Since they can't be perfect and they don't want to settle for anything less than perfection, they resolve their dilemma by doing nothing. When perfection becomes a prerequisite, it's not just the enemy of good; it's also the enemy of action.
Riders obsessed with perfection lose the ability to evaluate themselves, their horses, and their progress. They define themselves and their horses by faults, flaws and inadequacies. They see only two possibilities: "Perfect" and "not good enough." For them, the conflict between perfect and good has taken the joy from riding.
Riders need to be self-analytical so they can evaluate their progress, but unrealistic goals interfere. Keep a place for "perfect" in the back of your mind - that ideal image does have value - but beware of making it your goal.
Kathrin Meyer zu Strohen & Rassolini
In my experience, the riders who make the best progress and have the happiest horses are those who define themselves and their horses not by their mistakes and imperfections but by their qualities, efforts and progress. These riders are well aware of their flaws and shortcomings, and they work hard to correct them. But they also recognize and appreciate small, incremental improvements, and their overall attitude is "It's taking time, but I'm becoming a better rider, my horse is becoming a better horse and we're as good as our best ride."
An obsession with perfection can block progress, but hard work, a focus on quality, and a positive attitude will lead directly to progress - steady progress at that. In your daily work, strive for improvement and aim for excellence rather than perfection. "Better" makes an ideal perpetual goal. It's always challenging and it's also always achievable.
Perfect is the enemy of good, but "better" is good's best friend."
By Jessica Jahiel, printed in Dressage Today.