Practice Until Perfect? Or Perfectly Good?

Practice Until Perfect? Or Perfectly Good?

It all started with a horrible mess in the kitchen.  How could I have been so careless?  I watched helplessly as the egg yolk poured down the side of the refrigerator door that I had just cleaned a week ago, and onto the floor.  Has this ever happened to you?  My “hangry” state pushed me into a state of exasperation.

Fortunately, no one was home so my derogatory remarks were shared only with the dogs.

And all I could think after I vented was, these “perfectly good” eggs didn’t have a chance, they just went to waste.  And I reflected, how many things in my life are like that?

My words continue to be written, but many of them are never given the opportunity to be consumed.  They are perfectly good words, worthy of savoring, yet they go to waste because I choose not to share them.

Hesitancy is my middle name.  I often hesitate, waiting until the perfect time.  And yet that perfect time never comes.  Holding out for perfection only impedes my progress.

With that, I bring you an essay I wrote days ago.  Feeling like it’s not perfect feels like the perfect time to share it with you…

“Practice until perfect.”, a cliche you’ve all heard.  What’s not considered enough is the paralyzing effect these seemingly motivational words have on you as its successor, perfectionism, slowly and unnoticeably begins to rule your life.

Perfectionism often leads to our dissatisfaction and unnecessary self-devaluation.  Perfection, the highest bar you set for yourself hangs as an elusive carrot in the sky.  No sooner are you granted a victory, does someone bypass your achievement, leaving you holding an outdated medal for a record surpassed long ago.  Rising to the peak of success only brings you closer to the next peak.  And when you finally stand at the summit, you know you can still go higher.

Striving for perfection remains admirable.  Practicing with the realization that perfection may never be reached is most admirable.

My husband loves the movie, “Rudy”.  Do you know the story?  I feel like you might since I’ve personally heard the story many times from him, after watching it.  Rudy was gifted a small frame, with an inexhaustible, grandiose desire to be a star football player.  His plight as he faced continuous rejection and even ridicule set the stage.  His ability to rise above the adversity lands him a bench player seat at Notre Dame where he was eventually put in the last game of his senior year.  We all counted him victorious as he sacked the quarterback in the last few moments of the game.  Of course, Rudy’s story is a motivational example inspiring persistence even when odds are stacked against you. 

Ironically, I now see the story as modeling an additional example.  I will call it “practice although imperfect”.  Rudy could not change his stature.  He could not change his overall athletic ability to compete equally with those gifted with talent.  What Rudy could do was practice, practice more, practice until he could prove to himself and others that he had reached the pinnacle of his dream.  Did Rudy become a star football player?  No, he became an inspiration.  I would guess he went on practicing to reach other lofty goals with the same amount of perseverance.

Analyzing from another angle, those who become star athletes still continue to practice. Musicians also continue to practice their music after creating a composition or winning a Grammy.   Reasonably, you may conclude perfection summits are an illusion.   

From this perspective, I realize perfection cannot truly be reached by any of my efforts.  Practicing until perfect may keep me constantly growing and improving, towards mastery…never perfection.  As I reflect on the true definition of perfection, I recognize, in a large sense, nothing is ever complete since every great work of humankind can be improved upon.  So without the goal of perfection, where’s the motivation, you may ask as well?  

My new goal is as follows.  “Each day, as you wake, take a moment to consider how life on this beautiful planet entices you to grow and learn, giving you another day to practice whatever it is you’ve chosen to master.”  Our individual motivations may differ; however,  moving forward in our chosen ventures often requires discipline and tenacity of practice.  I have learned to replace the goal of perfection with the fuel of determination, a strength of purpose, and continued appreciation for the lessons along the way.  Therein lies the true accomplishment.

Each accomplishment builds a step to the next step.  Don’t keep striving for a mirage of perfection.  Celebrate your personal victories along the way.  Release yourself from the pressure of perfectionism and embrace momentary contentment when your work is perfectly good.

-Erika K Rothwell


Mother Bird’s Babies

Mother Bird’s Babies

FANTASY:  Wanting to achieve all the things.

AMBITION:  Pursuing a number of goals simultaneously.

REALITY:  Achieving one thing.

This list doesn’t always apply to my life.  Last week, it did.  It was a week of preparation to send another little bird out of the nest.  And this one literally wants to fly.

As we moved our oldest son into college and simultaneously watched him take his Oath of Office as  an HSSP Air Force cadet, my maternal self wanted to yell “No, not yet!”  He’s ready, but apparently, I’m not.   Running blind through the torrential wind-wrapped rain on the college campus to make it to the official event on time, I could think only metaphorically…”I don’t have to cry because the heavens are drowning me in mommy tears”.  For the public eye, it was fortunate my cerebral control kept things in check, even though all my heart saw was this…

Family 044_2

I am so very proud of my son’s achievements thus far and am quite confident he is going spread his wings and soar, his childhood dream only beginning to unfold.  And as it goes with his running, I’ll be lagging some distance behind navigating the ever-changing terrain of motherhood.

I’ve been here before.  Memories of his older sisters’ journeys out of home base engulf me, as I recall pushing one out of the nest hesitantly and reluctantly letting the other one fly out with a powerful trajectory.  While managing to help them on their way, my joy competed with my sadness.  This dichotomous transition is clearly never easy.

I achieved one thing last week, one monumental thing. 

As the fantasy was replaced by reality, my unfinished writing is waiting patiently for my return.  My goals remain in a holding pattern, dependent on my undivided focus accessible only after releasing the weight of this sentimental recollection.

-Erika K Rothwell

In order to catch up on the business of writing, this post is short but I wanted to share a silly little poem I wrote years ago when I sent my firstborn daughter off to college since these emotions are raw, yet again. 

“Mother Bird, why do you cry?”

“I had to push my baby bird out of the nest today,

I don’t know why!”

“Mother Bird, of course, you know why

Your baby is gone


don’t  despair

She will come back to you


and will not deny

 she learned to fly


her mother cared enough

to show her

the sky!”

– Erika K Rothwell


Who’s the Teacher?

Who’s the Teacher?




“You teach best what you most need to learn.” Richard Bach.  An entire week has been spent allowing these words to slowly simmer, my mind swirling as it attempted to wrap an analysis around this brilliance, seasoning them with the past, present, and future in random order.

Richard Bach’s work was rejected 18 times before his book, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” was published and became a number one best seller. 

He found a love in flying and wrote his passion into stories.  Discovering your passion is one step, developing and sharing it to make an impact on others is another huge step.  This author’s work, after years of perseverance, eventually inspired millions of readers.

My work continues to evolve within the cadence of daily family activities.  My moments of reflection glare at me daily and screech, “Just keep learning.”  Humility knocks me down repeatedly with each hurdle faced while navigating an overwhelming learning curve.

A certain style of teaching is naturally built into my maternal being.  Ask any of my children.  In fact, just this week, my son reads my writing and says, “ You are a philosopher, Mom.”  And I laugh and ask him, “Why?”.  Pointing the question right back at me, he replies, “Because you are always asking and explaining why.” “That’s why!”

So, who’s the teacher, here?  His matter-of-fact youthful appraisal is exactly the reason why I can now finish this piece of work. 

Last week as I wallowed in my rut and false starts ruled my days, I turned to my journals, where I penned advice to myself over the years.  The following words jumped off the page to wake me from a paralytic state.  “To get out of a rut, be more childlike.  Watch a child make fun out of just about anything!”

Questions form.  What fuels the enthusiasm of a child?  Why are children gifted with the innate ability to face challenges with such vigor? 

Of course, a vision of my own childhood sneaks out of the memory bank.  Days of pretend play out as I watch a movie starring an exuberant and entrepreneurial spirited child build bakeries filled with various delicacies, run a bank with professional and caring service, and eventually design an entire town all from the dirt, acorns, grass and leaves in her backyard.  The main plot radiates throughout the picturesque frames, as she also tends to her imaginary home complete with myriads of children. 

Seeds of creative inspiration were being planted in the garden of my youth, taking root in my heart and soul.  Can you recall some of your own seeds?

A child’s belief, “Everything is possible”, shines in neon.  Zealous exploration propels each day’s journey of discovery.  Within this tiny framework of a person, lives a larger than life motivation often resulting in exponential results.  And every day, a new “Star is Born.”

My father’s stories often opened with the night sky.  He was fascinated by the stars and the magnitude of the astronomical universe.  Taking my hand and pointing to the stars, he taught me their names.  Sometimes, the story of trains carrying stars would follow…”The number of stars in the universe is so great that if each one was represented by a grain of sand”…and his story would go on to fill a whole page, describing a complex formulaic mathematical calculation representing the immensity, in a simple form for a child to grasp.

Attesting to the gift of genetics, his love of learning and teaching by storytelling has been passed down the line.

When a human reaches stardom from dedicating their lives to their passion and craft, we call them a “star”.  These “stars” have names that we remember because we admire them and follow their lives.  However, “rising stars” exist everywhere, and we may not even know their names. 

Everyone has gifts to share.  We were all born “stars”.  Perhaps, those who shine brightest are those that quickly recognize their limitless potential in this life.  Is it possible that the expression, “let your light shine”, was inspired by the stars as they light up the heavens?

My children have been my students and audience for many years.  I have lived believing my job was to teach them what I know best.  And yet, they continue to teach me with thought-provoking questions and wise statements as they grow into adulthood.  I recall both my daughter and son emphatically reminding me, “It’s not about you, Mom.” and my other daughter’s curious, yet pointed, question, “Why did you have children, Mom?”

Last week as I continued to stir the word soup, a savory realization was being prepared.  More time was necessary to blend the flavors.  A pinch of grace was needed.

Stepping back from the mission to deliver blog posts as scheduled, based only on what I know best, checking the box of self-imposed expectations, I discovered I was unknowingly about to serve my guests fast food, and my heart wasn’t completely in it.

The real learning had to take place first,  a higher level of sustenance provided from a source outside of myself. 

So the question, “who is the teacher?”, remains yours to answer.

For me, in this moment of time, it is apparent I can still learn from modeling the children.

-Erika K Rothwell

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