“Perfection” by Webster’s Dictionary is defined as the state or quality of being perfect, freedom from fault or defect. Many people believe we should and must strive for perfection in all that we do. If you have ever been deposed for a court case or experienced construction claim defects, you know the plaintiff lawyers will reference codes and standards. They grill you on the smallest inconsistencies to detail and make assumptions and interpretations between the two. Failing to meet the standard is a construction defect. While they will argue that they are not asking you to be perfect, wouldn’t the definition of perfection from Webster’s contradict that very claim? 

We tend to use the word “perfection” lightly in life. Consider a perfect game in baseball. A perfect game is when a pitcher does not allow a batter to reach first base—but is this truly perfect? I think we can all agree that perfection is unobtainable. While this can be agreed to, many people feel striving for the pursuit of perfection is a worthy goal. I am not one of those people. If perfection is the goal, failure will happen 100 percent of the time. 

I have known people who strive for perfection with almost an obsessive abandon. While they realize attaining that goal is not very realistic, they have a hard time separating the goal from their achievements. It is similar to what young people have with social media. Life should be perfect; all their friends have it. They see it on their social media posts. I consider this whole issue defective. This is setting ourselves up for failure. The real harm for contractors is when this is transferred to building owners or architects who demand perfection because that is what everyone else is getting.

I have inspected multiple wall and ceiling projects in several states. On some projects, the owner will place a piece of tape, sticky note, or whatever at or near a perceived defect. 

I still recall the large custom home built for a giant software developer. Each room was filled with blue dots everywhere highlighting countless imperfections. The problem was, I could not see the defect the dot was illustrating. I wanted to be sure that I was being fair and thorough on my evaluation of this alleged defective workmanship. The owner’s representative finally asked what I thought of the work. He offered the comment, “It was one of the worst jobs he had ever seen.” I then had to confess I was having a hard time seeing any imperfection or defect. Still trying to be fair, I asked him to help me understand what he is seeing and what I was missing. I finally realized that he had his own interpretation of perfection. He was beyond being just a little bit picky. 

I left the site making the comment that perfection is unobtainable, but the workmanship on this project was as close to it as I had seen. I meant every word when I said that I would make that same statement in deposition or a courtroom if needed. I was quickly told they looked forward to seeing me in court.

A Slice of History

Kilian McDonnell is a 94-year-old Benedictine Monk from Collegeville, Minn. His poem entitled “Perfection, Perfection” is one he wrote after years of personally struggling to be perfect. He noted it was a futile and miserable path to take. His last sentence of his perfection poem sums it up nicely, “Hints I could have taken, even the perfect chiseled form of Michelangelo’s radiant David squints, the Venus de Milo has no Arms, the Liberty Bell is cracked.”

I feel for the software giant’s architect. He places tremendous pressure on himself and others. The court date or deposition never came and the wall and ceiling contractor was paid in full. I found out later this architect was hard on the other trades, not just drywall finishing. 

Reflecting back after reading Kilian’s poem made me realize his life must be very unsatisfying. Expecting perfection and then being disappointed time and time again. I have learned to let go of perfection. I was even able to help my wife understand that expecting perfection will drive you crazy, life is too short and there is so much to be done. 

I suspect this trend of expecting perfection is why associations publish papers on allowable tolerances for installation of framing, drywall and plaster. If you run into one of these perfectionists, feel sorry for them. Their life must be difficult. Of course, you still have to hand them the allowable tolerances papers. While we shouldn’t accept sub-standard work, wringing one’s hands over an imperfection or trying to get others to meet your interpretation of perfection, is stressful, pointless and will shorten your life span.