A life lesson from Uncle Henry.
You might have noticed the man grinning up from this photo is missing his right hand. This is Uncle Henry. He is 88 years old. Uncle Henry’s hand was amputated in an industrial accident when he was 50. Until that point he had been right handed.
Uncle Henry has a cheeky sense of humour and superb comedic timing. He likes wine and owns a house near the beach — all of which makes a crackerjack combination in a relative.
A bachelor his whole life, Uncle Henry’s interior decorating style could be best described as Spartan-like. That is, except for the walls. The walls of his home are covered in a combination of framed hand worked tapestries and memorabilia reflecting a serious interest in long distance running.
The amputation of his right hand presented Henry with a pressing need to improve the dexterity of his left. So at 50, he took up needlework/ tapestry, and gave it several hours a day. (Imagine if you can, repeatedly threading a needle with one hand)
He started out with very basic and repetitive work. As time passed, his work has clearly got better and better. Some of his later works are increasingly complex, and quite beautiful. (some still have the prize placement cards won in various annual shows proudly propped in the corner of the frames) His walls reflect a record of progress, of acquiring a skill that has been improved upon over almost 40 years of steady application.
His walls tell a story, and are testament to the concept “…if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly at first…”
Then there’s the running memorabilia. There are many pictures of him , arms raised up, in the triumphant pose of runners crossing the finish line of various half marathons and marathons. He’s been a keen runner his whole life, but a 60, with a little more time on his hand ( his pun ) he entered himself in his first half marathon, and he kept on at such events for more than a decade, improving his time year on year.
The underpinning theory he has applied to both interests has been “progress is better than perfection.”
Setting your sights on improving upon your last effort, mastering your skill, and being better at something today than you were yesterday is key to getting closer to your goal, mastering your craft, and eventually — getting closer to a perfect outcome (whatever that might mean to you.)
The achievement of big a goal, or the mastery of a skill rarely comes in leaps and bounds- just ask any “overnight success” They will usually tell you it’s the culmination of steady application, over a long period- roughly about 10,000 hours practice time. ( Malcolm Gladwell, Outsiders) So when faced with a big challenge, or setting out on your quest, whatever it may be, don’t become overwhelmed by the target. Aim for gradually improving upon the skill that will get you there. Aim for progress , not perfection, and take a tip from Uncle Henry- “if its worth doing…be prepared to do it badly at first”
“…Whatever you can do, or dream you can, do it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” Goethe