Thursday, December 2, 2010

#reverb10 day 2: the art of doing imperfectly

#reverb10 day 2 prompt: What do you do each day that doesn't contribute to your writing -- and can you eliminate it?

A few weeks ago I was sharing with a mentor about a new opportunity -- related to writing -- on the horizon. From what I know on this side of it, it will require a lot of work and involve a steep learning curve. And for that reason, I was telling her, if it doesn't work out I won't be devasted. Sensing my hesitation, she started to poke around and led me to start thinking about mediocrity versus excellence. Now we all know that doing something excellently requires lots of practice (10,000 hour rule), and likely many experiences of missing the mark before you finally hit it. That's true for this new opportunity, and to be honest, I'm scared.

And this led us to talk about the need for perfection.

She and I (and many of you) are wired the same: we want to do it perfectly or not do it at all. But this creates a huge block because, knowing we're bound to fail or be just mediocre or make a few mistakes, there are many things we don't even try. She's learning the art of doing imperfectly, she said, and told me a story of her recent experience with it. I felt some relief. (Because, I'm leveling with you here: I still have a mommy complex, I still see authority as perfect, and my mentor is pretty darn cool. But she's not perfect! I don't have to be perfect either!)

For me, learning the art of doing imperfectly means deciding to be ok with a couple of things:

being a learner instead of always a master
showing weakness when I'd rather be seen as strong
letting go of ideals and seeing what new skills, ideas, feelings arise

One final note about this: the idea of the imperfect isn't new to me. What's new is that in the past, it's led me to settle for mediocrity. Case in point: In high school I graduated at the head of my class. The months and weeks leading up to graduation were so incredibly stressful for me that when it came to choosing a college, I chose to be mediocre and anonymous; I wanted to hide and my decision on where I would attend college and how I would approach my time there reflected that. The experience has been redeemed, but that's not the point. Being ok with doing something imperfectly serves to get us past blocks so we can practice, play, try things out, and eventually be excellent (not perfect). I'm trying this out not only in writing, but in other areas, too: work, cooking, running, my image and the way I present myself, artistic ventures, etc.


  1. "Being ok with doing something imperfectly serves to get us past blocks so we can practice, play, try things out, and eventually be excellent (not perfect)." i love that sentence. it's so true. so very true. (i'm a recovering perfectionist.) oh, and hey, congratulations on that new job that's on the horizon!

  2. I love that same sentence! I have a slight issue with the whole "learning to do something" thing also. I needed to hear your words tonight. Thank you.

    Yes, congrats!

  3. Ah, to want excellence, not perfection. Thanks for these thoughts, Betsy.

    One personally humbling experience for me as a learner has been trying (many, many times) to waterski with G's family at their lake cottage. I finally 'got up' (i.e. did it!), but it took about 20+ tiring, semi-public and embarrassing fails to get there (over the course of 2 years). Whew. I am with you on wanting to do it perfectly or not at all...I wonder where God might be asking me to be a learner this year.