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  No sooner are you granted a victory, does someone bypass your achievement, leaving you holding an outdated medal for a record surpassed long ago.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


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