Thoughts on Perfectionism

The master at anything was once a beginner. Everyone starts somewhere.

The stars will never perfectly align and circumstances will never be optimal. Start before you’re ready.

David Foster Wallace once said, “If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.” The only way to overcome this inertia is to just dosomething.

Consider the anecdote of the ceramics teacher and the pottery class.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.

All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.

Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged:the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Start small and start badly. Then keep working and refining the edges. This is the only way to improve and achieve any semblance of perfection.

Your Passion vs Your Parents

We live in a more confusing time than ever today.

Entire industries have sprung up that never existed just one or two decades ago. The old way of doing things is often broken.

Because of this, much of the advice that was passed down through the generations has become obsolete. Conventional wisdom is sometimes no longer relevant.

Every day, we’re barraged with advice from other people about how to live our lives. Parents, siblings, teachers, friends, society at large all tell you how to live your life. Everyone imposes their will on you, whether they mean to or not.

As a result, young people are pushed into careers they never wanted. They choose their college majors based not on their interests but on what their parents think is best. (By the way, I think the whole idea of choosing a major at 18 is ridiculous to begin with)

They (or I should say, we, as I still identify as a young adult) seem to never cultivate a sense of identity, instead relying on the guidance of someone else to tell them what to do next. The concept of choosing their own life path is foreign to them.

It’s unfortunate, because those who listen too much build a habit of trusting others to make decisions for them. As time goes on, this habit only grows stronger, leading to a life of conformity and blind trust in authority figures.

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Do Something

This past weekend, I was running behind schedule to go to the gym. It closes at 7pm, and at 6:30pm I hadn’t even left the house. It takes me about 15 minutes to walk there.

I had a decision to make: do I go to the gym, with about 15 minutes to do a workout, or do I give in and tell myself I’ll do it the next day?

It seems like a somewhat trivial decision at first glance. After all, missing one workout a week won’t make or break me.

But throughout our lives, these kinds of decisions occur thousands of times. The choices you make in these moments compound and can have an enormous impact in the long run. Sure, missing one workout won’t have much of an impact on my health or body. But that one workout missed just once a week amounts to 52 missed in a year. And hundreds missed in several years.

Plus, once you miss that first workout, you rationalize to yourself it’s OK to miss the next one. And then the next. When you accept that first excuse you tell yourself, it gets easier and easier to accept the next ones. You train yourself for complacency. You hold yourself accountable less and less.

Thus I think this seemingly trivial decision was, and is, very important.

So back to the story…at 6:35 pm, I finally left the house. Instead of walking there, like I usually do, I half-sprinted there. I got there in about 5 minutes. 6:40 pm.

When I walked in, the staff were already beginning to pack up. I handed the guy at the counter my card, to which he said, “Uh, you know we’re closing at 7, right?”

“Yeah. Going to do a quick workout.”

And I did. I superset all my exercises back-to-back-to-back. It wasn’t the workout that I had planned on doing, but I got it done nonetheless in about 20 minutes (Parkinson’s Law, anybody?).

Why do I think this story is important? Well, this decision is like a microcosm of a philosophy I try to apply in my life.

It’s called the do something principle: When faced with a choice between doing something and not, doing something is better than doing nothing.

It sounds so obvious it’s not even worth mentioning.

But it’s often the most obvious or trite advice – sayings we’ve heard millions of times they’ve lost their impact – that are actually the most powerful.

A mediocre workout is better than no workout at all.

Writing just 100 words a day is better than writing nothing at all.

Reading five pages a day is better than not reading at all.

Practising the piano for 10 minutes is better than not practising at all.

Again, obvious, right? Yet for many of us this principle is actually difficult to apply.

We look at starting something new and think that we immediately have to go from 0 to 100, otherwise there’s no point to doing it at all.

A friend of mine wanted to start running every night for half an hour. She bought all the right equipment and clothes to get started. But she eventually realized she couldn’t dedicate the full half hour she wanted to. She didn’t think there was a point to run for just ten minutes a night. So she gave up entirely.

So despite the obviousness of the concept, it’s a handy one to keep in mind. The next time you want to forgo your workout, or are procrastinating on something, just do something. You’ll be glad you did. And it’s infinitely better than doing nothing.