Email Refrigerator :: 25
What Will Become of Us?
“Hello, Elmo” Golda says politely as she tosses her red plush friend on top of her doll, already-buckled into the tiny stroller. My daughter keeps adding her toys one by one. An oversized plastic butterfly sits on the table. She picks that up, too. “Come here, Par-par!” which she recently learned means butterfly in Hebrew. And finally, the bath toys. “Alimango!” (Tagalog for crab).
Ok. I’m sharing this story partially to brag about my daughter. I mean, she’s barely two. 3 languages? She’s brilliant, right? Some child prodigy genius.
But I’m also bringing it up because it’s revealing something to me about me. Assuming she’s a genius raises my expectations of her, projecting visions of tutors and extra-curricular classes. College opportunities and career achievements ahead for her. And then I can’t help but match those expectations with how I treat her and guide her learning.
But we do that for anything with potential. A promising stock investment, a job offer at a startup, the fixer-upper house, an up-and-coming neighborhood, an exciting new relationship that could be “the one.” We mentally assign expectations and behave differently in order to guide each one, hoping it lives up to those expectations.
Is that normal? Is that healthy? Is there another way?
So I’m thinking a lot about potential this month. How does projecting these expectations on people and ideas in our lives affect how we treat them, and what is to come of them?
Let’s step up to the plate and see what happens.
About 15 years ago, I interned at an ad agency–my first real job out of college. After a particular meeting, one of the senior creative guys told me “someday we’ll work for you.” At the time, he meant it as a compliment. And I took it that way for almost a decade.
I used that vision to motivate me and my career trajectory. But over time, that compliment became unnecessary pressure. I was carrying this potential and it was weighing me down. The compliment was turning into a curse, like I had to somehow pay back this gift I’d been given and meet everyone’s expectations of me.
Potential can be paralyzing.
It’s one of the challenges of making things. Doesn’t really matter what, just the idea of being creative. A song, painting, homemade cookies, starting a new company, a pasta dinner.
In the process of making that thing, one of the earliest and most exciting steps is envisioning what it could be. Imagining the crowd cheering, that first bite right out of the oven, framing and hanging the masterpiece we just started, standing on a TED stage.
We can imagine perfection but because we are human we are incapable of making it. It will always be better in our head than what it is when it comes out.
And then we finish. And inevitably, it falls short.
When so much is expected of us and the work we make, it becomes nearly impossible to meet those expectations. So why should we continue to pursue audacious career goals, have kids, or make ambitious work, knowing they’re likely going to fall short of what we can imagine them to be?
Growing up, my mom had a backyard garden. She taught my brother and me how to water the tomato plants, how to protect them from bugs, squirrels, and rabbits, and how to tell when the fruits were ripe. Pluck!
The biggest ones were all funny-shaped, and colored a mix of red, purple, brown and yellow. But they were the sweetest, juiciest fruits I can remember ever eating.
I worked on an advertising project in college about gardening. We spent 4 weeks looking for interesting insights about it, and I still remember my favorite one: home-grown fruit is like our children. No matter how ugly and imperfect they are, we will love them because we made them and cared for them.
It’s not so different from the songs we write. The pottery we shape. The photo we took in our yard that we edited. The uneven cookies we baked and frosted. Because we’ve spent time caring for it and nurturing it into the world, and because they are ours–something we made ourselves– we love them.
I just finished the book How to Write One Song by Jeff Tweedy. He makes a great point about art: “No one has ever laid on their deathbed thinking, ‘Thank god I didn’t make that song. Thank god I didn’t make that piece of art. Thank god I avoided the embarrassment of putting a bad poem into the world.’”
Nobody reaches the end of their life and regrets creating something. Anything we create, no matter what it was “supposed” to be or whatever we imagined it to be, is imperfect but ours.
It takes maturity to embrace what we have and where we’ve ended up. To find joy in being human and embracing the wabi-sabi of being a gardener, parent, artist, and human. It’s a special feeling to create something that falls short of what we expected.
There’s a magic to imperfection.
If you’ve grown backyard tomatoes, you know.
*Wabi Sabi is a Japanese philosophy summarized as the acceptance of imperfection and appreciation of beauty that is impermanent and incomplete.
New Year. New Possibilities. (Right?)
After a year like 2020, we’re all looking at 2021 with hungry eyes. Surely it must hold a more promising future than the year we’ve all just had.
But it’s not really fair. We put all these expectations on January, and really, January has notably been a tough month in our lives. We’re back to reality after a long break, where we indulged in foods and entertainment, spending money we’re realizing that we now have to pay back. We’re dieting and starting new habits. And the real cold Winter hasn’t even hit yet.
January will let us down.
But we continue to see the new year with potential. Every year (and this one especially), we’re piling on our expectations of what could be waiting for us all in the months to come.
We do it every year because potential gives us hope.
Potential aims for the best version of what’s to come. So while we may ultimately be let down by a year, a person or a piece of art not being perfect, we should remind ourselves that aiming for perfection is an audacious pursuit.
And isn’t that what life should be about? Taking big swings, driven by hope?
I hope this works out.
I hope I can.
I hope they say yes.
I hope she will.
I hope he likes this.
Potential is exciting because it means having hope.
And hope is something we all need right now.
Thank you for opening the refrigerator this month and digging around.
My hope for these refrigerators is they continue to be a place to inspire new ideas, to help make sense of both our internal and external worlds, and to make you feel less alone. If you believe someone you know would get something out of these, please share it. Here’s a link to sign up.
2020 revealed things to all of us about the world we have and our place within it. My hope is that 2021 is a year of commitment to better. A year doing the hard work of coming together, learning, changing our mind, and taking action to rebuild the world we want. It’s possible.
Next year has the potential to be the best one yet.
You’re up. Take a swing.
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