Practice Makes Perfect

Have no fear of perfection, you will never reach it. — Salvador Dalí

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, made the perfect comment on the topic of perfection in the creative process of writing: “Done is better than perfect.”

“If I had wanted my first novel to be perfect,” she says, “I would have never finished it.”

Ironically, our misinterpretation of perfection can stop us from getting things done. And that becomes the biggest obstacle to reaching perfection.

Perfectionism is the ambition to achieve perfection. It focuses on the result, while experiencing our own inadequacy. Perfectionism is steeped in fear of not being able to produce perfect results.

Perfection, on the other hand, is a natural byproduct of the process of getting things done. As we get things done over and over again, we inevitably get better and better at it, and the results become more and more perfect.

This means, we can all reach perfection naturally by focusing on the process of whatever it is we want to do, and by bringing each phase to completion.

Whenever you get something done to your best ability, that’s when you have an opportunity to experience perfection. It may only last for a short moment, and that’s normal.

During a visit to Zurich, the American writer Paul Auster described this experience when finishing a novel. In the first flush of gratification he says to himself “I’m a fucking genius! This is the best piece I’ve ever written.”

Shortly afterwards the wave of excitement ebbs down, and he experiences a trough, in which he says to himself, “Oh, this is just another load of crap!”

If you produce creative work of any kind, you may well be familiar with this emotional wave that comes with the completion of a project.

After the long period of working on a project, the completion is the culmination of the creative process. That leads to the crest of the wave.

Assuming you’re happy with what you’ve just done, the moment of completion comes with a mix of enthusiasm, exhilaration, and deep satisfaction. It is like an emotional orgasm.

Of course this experience cannot last. It can be followed by a trough of rejection, disdain, or even self-contempt.

Neither of these experiences reflect the quality of the work. They are reminders that perfection is merely a fleeting moment in the creative process.

As long as we are caught up in the tension between our own high standards and our current abilities, perfection is a hard task master and an impossible goal to reach.

Once we realise that perfection can be a peak experience, and that it is possible to have that experience again and again, then we can fully enjoy our practice.

This is an excerpt from an article with the same title, first published on http://selfknowledgemanagement.org/practice-makes-perfect-2/

This article is also available in German on http://selfknowledgemanagement.org/de/ubung-macht-den-meister/