“You must always work not just within but below your means. If you can handle three elements, handle only two. If you can handle ten, then handle only five. In that way the ones you do handle, you handle with more ease, more mastery, and you create a feeling of strength in reserve.” [Emphasis added] Pablo Picasso
It’s not working. You know why I know it’s not working?
Because if it were working, it’d be working.
And you wouldn’t be here.
Stop trying to score metaphorical three-pointers. Just go for the lay-up instead. Go for two instead.
Or — shoot 10,000 practice balls a week or a month first…
And then come back and try that surgical strike nonsense.
But until you are a surgeon, don’t do surgery. Do simple, easy, amateur things instead. And don’t do them well. Do them well enough. Like government work.
“But government work is schyte-ballz!”, you say. No, it isn’t. Depends on the government. Japanese government work is pretty awesome. It gets done. I can think of some other gubmits that also do good work, and some that recently started doing good work. Is it perfect work? No. But since when did you start demanding such ridiculous standards of human beings? If you’re living in a country where you can read this, your gubmit is prolly doing pretty decent work. Having lived around the world, I notice that one of the differences between a good country and bad one (to live in) isn’t how well certain things are done but whether they are done at all. It’s not 1 to 100. It’s 0 or 1. Binary. And more than 0 is 1.
Done at all beats done well. Kinda sorta done beats perfect 0. The only perfection is 0% and 100%. Both tend to be bad for you. In most situations, simply assume you will never reach 100%; you’ll reach 78%, you may reach 95%.
Does that mean speak and make mistakes? No. It means don’t even bother speaking. It means you focus on putting the words in, and let the words come out by themselves. When you don’t know what something means or how to say something, you look it up.
Stop trying to score holes-in-one. Just move the ball closer to the hole. We went from basketball to golf there. Keep up.
Pile up mediocrity. Why? Where’s the dream in that? Where’s the vision in that? Where’s the beauty in that? Where’s the art in that? Why just do a bunch of easy things that are good enough? Isn’t that lazy? Isn’t that the unlived life? Isn’t that dying with your music still inside you? Why not go testicles to the wall with overwhelming force? (You could, but you run out of testicles rather fast — most human beings have two or less, so you need to oscillate and recover like a motherlover).
Because a pile of mediocrity isn’t mediocre. Mediocrity accumulated is transcendent. Perfectionism is the siren path to nowhere but pain and perdition. And even excellence is not the path to excellence. You don’t get to excellence by being excellent, you get to excellence by moving. Mediocrity is the path to excellence. I would even go so far as to say that it is the only path(set) worth your consideration because, while all paths may end in death, this one doesn’t contain death. People who are willing to shrug off mistakes don’t kill themselves.
Just because we can conceptualize perfection, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. It’s an idea that needs to go. Lest you think this is age mellowing me out and softening me up, it’s not (not that mellowing out wouldn’t be a good thing for me — it totally would). Perceptions notwithstanding, it is only this kind of mellowness that even makes the apparent extremeness of AJATT possible (trivial example: if you’re going to be doing Japanese all the time, you can’t be choosy about its “quality” or difficulty or “educationalness”). I had to mellow out to get here in the first place, and I have to mellow out to stay “here”. AJATT may be a hot-headed philosophy, but it’s very much a controlled heat: it’s stoves and pilot lights, not fire and brimstone.
Verily, I say unto you, it was the rejection of perfection that led me to such great heights so fast in Japanese, that took me out of “100 kanji hell” and to an imperfect knowledge of thousands of kanji. It is the rejection of perfection that created and keeps this site alive, because if I’d insisted on perfect (which is what I wanted), it’d be either undone or deleted, like so many great websites of friends, acquaintances and strangers, like so many unwritten books that are being “worked on”; I see many of these and I want to scream: “Let it out! Let it go! Let it be mediocre!”
What about Apple? What about the iPhone? Wasn’t Steve Jobs a perfectionist? Didn’t perfectionism in his work kill him (it was prolly perfectionism in his diet, but we’ll leave that argument to the experts and people willing to court controversy) — but also lead to perfect devices?
Oh yeah, ’cause no SD card slot, no Ethernet port, iTunes music transfer so bad it made me get an Android Sony Walkman for mp3s, and constant upgrade/connectivity issues? Real perfect.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my iOS devices and they’ve changed my life — the iPad is the only ereader that really seems get the job done for me, not any of the Kindles, not the Surface, not any Android tablet (their touchscreens are just too unreliable; software UIs too fiddly) — they allow me to be an avid reader without the burden of lugging books across the planet (or being forced into sedentarism in order to be near my books). But they’re not perfect, never have been and never will be. No doubt they’ll improve, though. Protopia not utopia, and all that.
The only reason there are new things is because old things can be improved. And the reason they can be improved is because they have things that sucked about them. Everything human beings have ever made — and many things we didn’t — has something that sucks about it. And the reason why is because that’s all we can do in finite time — produce things that are imperfect, that are better than nothing. As Dan S. Kennedy often says, the deadline is the greatest of all human inventions, because it made all other inventions possible.
Sure, if we had infinite time we might do infinitely well — perfectly. But that would also mean things would take infinitely long. And so, quite literally, nothing would ever get done or made. And that’s exactly where perfectionism leads: to nothing and nowhere.
Show me a failed author and I’ll show you someone who tries to write masterpieces, instead of just writing. Show me a failed programmer and I’ll show you someone who tries to write good programs, instead of ones just work. Show me a failed salesman and I’ll show you someone who tries to break sales records instead of just prospecting. Stephen King writes like a factory worker, man. Like a bricklayer. He’s not a hipster on a Mac at Starbucks with a “creative process” and 50 social media tabs open in his browser.
Our universe is made up of pieces so small that they do not matter. They’re not even mediocre. They’re sub-microscopic and sub-mediocre. We can’t see them and we don’t care about them. What’s an atom between friends, right? Even particle physicists don’t care about them — they care about the principles that govern their interactions; they don’t care about actual, individual atoms, and neither should you.
But a pile of these pieces of our universe matters a great deal. Mediocrity wants you to focus on these pieces (focus, that is, but not care), largely ignore the pile 1, and use their natural properties and laws of interaction to let them come together on their own, rather than simply forcing them together in a fit of futile rage, like you’re wanting to right now.
Mediocrity is not your enemy. Stopping is your enemy. Zero-ocrity is your enemy. Perfection is your enemy. Mediocrity means sustainable, doable progress, and progress is your friend. Mediocrity is your friend. Mediocrity wants to cut you some slack. Mediocrity wants to allow you to be human.
Will you let her in? Will you let her be your friend? Will you let her take you out on the town?
Or are you going to sit around, doing nothing, hating yourself, waiting for Perfect like she’s Godot?
PS: Something broke so I can’t link this post to other posts that I wanted to. And now I’ve literally had to take my own advice. Cool, huh?
- “So live in the present moment most of the time – perhaps 95-99% of it.
But plan for the future in the 1-5% of your time that can have an impact out of all proportion to the time. When it comes to those decisions, stop smelling the roses. Think as carefully as you possibly can. Heighten your instincts. Seek help in making the right decision. Be utterly mindful. Be as skillful as you possibly can. And be utterly committed to the decision.
Let most decisions – the unimportant ones – take care of themselves.”