On (Im-)perfection

When discussing the effects and burden of self-imposed perfectionism recently with a fellow blogger, that crippling mindset many of us writers are no stranger to, I remembered two beautiful pieces of wisdom I had come across some time ago and that are very much worth sharing.

So today, this post is dedicated to all you fellow creative minds: afflicted by nagging self-doubts, ever battling in front of their PC, staring at articles way too long before daring to publish, worrying over details of no consequence. And yet doing it again and again, overcoming their misgivings, taking heart putting their thoughts out there each week.

A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. All those on the right would be graded solely on their works’ quality.

His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group; 50 pound of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an A.

At grading time, the works with the highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of clay.

Think about this in your own life, even if you’re not using clay. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. But you can’t practice if you think only of perfection. Practice is about making mistakes; perfection comes from imperfection.” [source]

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I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
 
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
 
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
 
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” [source]

 

A wonderful weekend to all of you out there – the imperfect and those still learning to be.

6 comments

  1. Hehe, this is one of the things I was told in my inter cultural training about Americans. They’d rather try and try again until something works instead of thinking for long about what and how they are going to do something. They’d be trained for this in elementary school already. If at first you don’t succeed.

    This is contrary to the German education (and I think the French as well) which more or less says to think about it 3 times before you do it once. Now go ahead and compare German Engineering to American Engineering, something I’ve experienced both for real world problems.

    It drove me nuts at times having to pick up all those broken pieces from try and try again, probably in the same way it drove my American coworkers nuts when I was trying to predict all eventualities.

    In the end both approaches will lead to success, and as the “free market” shows, with similar results on both sides.

    1. Very interesting you should mention this, the cultural factor. I’ve been told this many times and see it in the blogosphere too. I’m definitely living in a place that’s all about never making mistakes and always being 100% accurate. In the US it seems to be a lot more okay to fail sometimes – failure is not a shame, as long as you get up again. just look at the showbusiness there, people can allow themselves the sort of faux-pas and embarrassments that would screw their careers for life here.

      I think in this particular aspect the American way is a lot more benevolent and humane. perfectionism can be incredibly crippling. we still have our excellent industries of course, but sometimes I wonder how much more we’d have (especially in fields like media, art…) if our mindset was a bit more open and forgiving.
      in any case, for my own productivity I need to learn to find a middle ground.

      Thanks a lot for the comment!

    2. Incidentally, I find that Americans tend to be a very forgiving people in general… as long as folks are honest about screwing up. We don’t seem to like deception and hypocrisy, but we’ll readily pick someone up who admits they screwed up and are willing to try again.

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