I write this editorial as the 2022 Winter Olympic Games come to end. World class athletes who have dedicated countless hours perfecting their skills have 1 chance at perfection. With more than 11 000 competitors and only 102 chances for a gold medal, they know the odds. At best, only a small percentage of the athletes will return with gold medals. Each year of the games, few, if any, gold medals are won by perfect scores.
Still, I am mesmerized, watching in awe as each competitor performs at a level most of us will never approach. In the opening ceremony, every competitor is lauded for the performances they will soon give. Most will not stand on the podium. Fewer still will get a perfect score from even their own country's judge. After each performance, their fellow competitors (peers) will applaud. In the closing ceremony, their efforts will be recognized. In airport terminals across the globe, fans and families will cheer their arrival because they competed. The failure to achieve perfection does not mean they were not absolutely amazing.
We have to stop pretending that science requires perfection. I have never read a perfect article. I have yet to hear of a perfect study. I have never seen a perfect intervention. There are more than 850 000 articles about nursing, and although many of them are amazing, not one of them is perfect, and yes, I'm among them! I have published a fair number of articles, and (don't tell anyone) none of them are perfect.
There is a dangerous global trend emerging. It is a trap that leads new authors into perfection paralysis. There is a myth that everything can, and must, be divided into one of only 2 ideologies. You are either a democrat or a republican. Prochoice or antiabortion. Early mobility or first-day bed rest. Staff to ratio or staff to acuity. The trend is to present false dichotomies as the only option. Either your manuscript is perfect, or it is worthless. Perfection is a worthy goal, but failure to achieve perfection should not stop progress.
Perfection paralysis occurs when an individual fails to make progress because they have not yet achieved perfection. They won't submit their paper until it is perfect—so they never submit. Science is an ever growing pursuit of knowledge. As nursing scientists, we all seek to design the perfect study. We want to design a study that so exquisitely answers an important question that our peers weep. However, we also know that every conclusion brings about new questions. There is no perfect study because no study will bring about the final answer (unless, of course, the answer is 42, but that is a different problem altogether).1
Top athletes are not perfect, and they do not experience perfection paralysis. They practice at home and then perform in front of their peers. They are judged. Their flaws are made known. Their peers applaud their efforts. Then, they go home and train again, trying to correct flaws and push boundaries, all the while knowing that perfection is a fleeting illusion.
You do not have to be perfect to be amazing. As a nurse reading this editorial, I hope you begin to believe that you cannot be paralyzed into inaction because your idea, your paper, or your study is not perfect. As the editor of the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, I am not looking for perfection—I'm looking for honesty. I hope that you will present your work in front of your peers, be judged, be applauded, and then go back to work trying to improve upon your performance. I hope you try to push the boundaries and teach us all a few new tricks. Mostly, I hope you choose to publish in Journal of Neuroscience Nursing.
Dr Olson declares that he is the editor of the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing.
1. Adams D. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
. Ballantine Books; 1995.