Character · Coaching and Managing · Inspiration · Leadership · legacy · Living

The Idea of Perfection

I enjoy painting when I get time and am in a creative mood. Landscapes in oils mostly. Not a professional by any means, but I do try my best and always try to learn something new. Perhaps a new technique for painting clouds or trees or focusing more on how light and shadow play on the canvas, getting the composition right, or better understanding color theory. I highly doubt I’ll ever sell one for enough money to retire on, but I do it for fun and it feels good to create something.

When I look at my paintings, I seem to focus on my mistakes and areas that I wish came out better. Sitting here at my desk, I’m looking at one mountain scene. People say they love it, and I see good things in it, but there are a couple of areas that gnaw at me. The ground is not detailed enough. There are three clouds above three peaks…too symmetrical as I look at it now. In a different painting here in my office, I made the river too straight. I should have created more areas of land jutting into the water. I didn’t do enough to add visual depth to it. I could go on and on.

Maybe I could have improved things in them, but often, I find myself making a step forward in one aspect but stepping back in another. Every iteration of improvement muddies the colors, and the detail is lost. If not careful, frustration sets in and can ruin everything. This happens more frequently that I would like. Tweaking and modifying while the paint’s wet often leads to more errors. Remember, I said I’m not a professional…

The quest for perfection can be a tricky road. The allure is strong in attaining some level of perfection. In the history of Major League Baseball, there’s only twenty-one perfect games since the World Series era began in 1904. No pitcher has ever thrown more than one perfect game in a career. But do we measure success by how many perfect games a pitcher threw in a career? If so, some of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game wouldn’t be on the list because they don’t have a perfect game on their resume.

Should we aim for perfection in our daily lives and career? Will we ever develop a perfect economic theory, sales pitch, or software program? Unlikely. Instead of perfection, we should focus more on doing our best, but to continuously improve. Perfection can consume your time and effort. If you’re needing to produce something for a client, a piece of art, or facing a deadline, if you aim to have something perfect, you’ll never produce much of anything. If anything, successes will be fleeting and rare.

This doesn’t mean to throw something out there that’s not ready. Artists don’t put only their under-painting or sketch on a canvas and call it complete (ok, maybe some modern art blurs the lines a bit). A musician doesn’t release an early demo as a finished version of a song. A writer doesn’t call their rough draft the finished polished version. Yes, there are those who are genius level in their field that may pull something like that off with wild success. Most of us must accept our work as imperfect, but as good as we were able to do. 

Success is not perfection. Success is doing something to the best of our ability and being able to take pride in the output. Success is the respect of our clients and peers. Often when I show someone one of my paintings, I tend to point out where I didn’t get the cloud in the right spot, or how the tree is too straight, or I forgot to add in something, etc… For the most part, people tend to see what’s good in your work. They see the mountain and vegetation and it fills them with wonder about this peaceful place. 

Should we focus all our effort and resources on perfection? Should we invest countless hours into something that we’ll probably never reach? By shifting focus to continuous improvement, we can increase our production and quality, which will create much success in our daily life and career. Through this process, we can approach perfection.

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