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On Perfection
March 7th, 2012

photo by Eric Vanderpool

Perfection is what you get when you stop expecting it of yourself. I didn’t always think this, though. Until recently, I spent most of my life fancying myself a perfectionist. I took pride in my opinion that over the course of one short life, the only way to truly reach your full potential was to strive for nothing less than perfection in everything you can possibly control. There was just no point in living any other way.

(Quick side story: my high school physics teacher once asked me if there was anything I didn’t have an opinion on. I told him that there was no point in living life if you don’t have an opinion on every single thing. I’ve since softened my stance on that quite a bit, but you can see what many of my teachers had to deal with.)

As usual, I was wrong, and things are much simpler than I even imagined. Being a perfectionist is actually not a desirable quality for two primary reasons:

1) It’s impossible to achieve perfection, especially all the time.
2) Basing your sense of self-worth on achieving the impossible means that you’ll never really be satisfied with yourself.

Oh, but you’re an artist and you don’t want to be satisfied or else you’ll lose your drive and ability to keep making better art than you have already! This is where I cough into my hand and say “bullshit” in an obvious and condescending manner. I can do this, because I’m an artist too. (I can also do it because this is my blog and I can do whatever the hell I want.) And after years and years of living creatively in the perfectionist mindset, I now believe that if you need that sort of motivation to inspire you to do great work, then you’re not much of an artist. Sorry. Or, maybe you’re a great artist who just has their priorities mixed up. If that’s the case, there’s plenty of hope for you yet!

There’s hope for us all, though. Because life has never been, and will never be, about the pursuit of perfection any more than it is about the pursuit of seeing a unicorn. Sometimes you just have to let go and allow yourself to be less than your best. Sometimes you have a shitty day and you have to just let it happen. You have to embrace your imperfections and flaws as part of what makes you you.

It’s only when you do this that you acknowledge that you are human, and the moment you get in touch with your own humanity is when you wind up being the best person—and artist—you’ve ever been. When that humanity allows you to connect with others in their humanity, well that’s an added bonus. And that’s perfection. Perfection in imperfection. If that doesn’t inspire you to create amazing art or live an incredible life, I don’t know what will.

Who cares if everything’s not perfect? It never will be. And that’s the beauty of it all.

 

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