80%


A few weeks back, Dr. Daniel Feikin and I sat on our porch and he asked what I would have done if I had learned that a McMansion was slated to go up in the orchard property next door.  Would I still have purchased our house?

It was a good question.  I still believe that the optimal situation would have been for us to have owned the now gone orchard.  And at the time that we lost it, I felt despair and longing and fear of what was to come.

But what did come?  If we saw this house for the first time today, we would see a delightful meadow next door slated to become a vineyard.  Lovely and quaint.  We would not have hesitated to buy this house.

Less than perfect would still be good enough.

But what about the hypothetical McMansion that would have sullied our privacy and views?  This house on its own is all that we need and wanted.  If something lousy was happening next door, we could have balked and held out and searched for something else.  We could have camped out in an apartment for two years.  We could have continued to live an unsettled life well into Mazie’s high school years.  Our time would have been given over to searching and exhausting real estate drives and questioning and perseverating over manifold possibilities.  And whatever we found would have been compromised in different ways.  Interest rates would start to rise.  The houses would need work. The land would be too big or too small or too wooded.  They would have been too expensive or too far from Mazie’s school or the roads too busy.  There’s always something.

Years ago I worked for a plastic surgeon in San Diego.  I was editing some promotional materials for him and taking forever to do it.  I couldn’t stand how sloppy his old stuff was and I wanted it to be perfect.  He finally sat me down over dinner at some place in La Jolla.

Andy, do you know why my facelifts come out better than  those done by my partner? he asked.  Because he aims for perfection, he said.  He goes in there and spends too much time trying to get everything right and he bruises too much of the tissue.  He makes a mess of it.  Do you understand what I’m telling you?

I shook my head.

80% is good enough, he said.  Nature will take care of the rest.

Not something you necessarily want to hear from your plastic surgeon.  But now twenty-five years, a million miles and a dozen lives later I can see Dr. Manchester was spot on.

Adaptation and survival favor imperfection.

80% of something far exceeds 100% of nothing.  Sometimes even less than good is good enough.

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