April 18, 2018–I was backstage at a recent show speaking with the child of a national recognized performer. You would know who this is, but since I wasn’t conducting an official interview I won’t reveal names.
“At age 24, my dad had won a Grammy,” this person said. “I’m 21, and what have I accomplished?”
There were so many things I wanted to say. I remember when I turned 21. I stayed up all night writing and recording a song. It went like this:
Twenty-one’s done and I’ve just begun, Living my life, being no one.
That sure didn’t win any Grammy.
But in our society, 21 is such a milestone, it is no wonder when we reach it that we think some wondrous truth will be revealed. Not so. Truths don’t begin to come out of hiding until you’ve hammered many failures into experience.
On those days when we reckon up, looking back on our lives from the trailing end of the demographic curve, we don’t always feel like what we accomplish amounts to much.
Each day turns into the next, and we focus on getting to work on time, paying taxes, and doing our downward dogs.
I think of the hours spent racing a stopwatch to meet a deadline, finish a project, or use the coupon before it expires. Here’s a tip: You’ll never beat it. The watch always wins.
I once wrote another song about regrets. I slyly disguised the meaning by making it about a careless zookeeper who left the aviary door open. I called it “No egrets.”
No Grammy nomination, there, either.
But if I had a “do over,” here is one thing I’d do different: I’d stop trying to be perfect.
We are drilled to pursue perfection. On the athletic field. In church. In school. Lordy, school is the worst. Everything we do in that institution is graded on a scale of 1 to 4. Students become focused on the scale rather than the learning. The measurement becomes the accomplishment.
That is wrong. Don’t believe me? Look around at your daily life, your marriage, your job, your family, your friends. See any perfection there? If I can make a guess, I’d say the amount of perfection in your life would be the same as the number of Grammys on my mantle. If I even had a mantle.
And yet, despite our flaws and failures and average grade point averages, we are wonderful successes! The fact you are reading this means you made it to this day on the timeline, and you possess the knowledge to read the newspaper plus the wisdom to read my column. What a fantastic achievement! You not only read, you walk, you talk, you eat, you rid your body of waste products, you have ideas, you earn a living. I’ll bet sometime in your life you even created something worthwhile, be it a quilt, a card, a child, or a bad song.
So here’s my profundity: Perfection is the enemy of success.
What more could I have achieved if I hadn’t worried about grades? The repercussions are insidious. Did I decide to not take a class because it was too hard? Did that decision lead to entering a less than optimal career path? Did that mean I earned less money over a lifetime? Did I miss an opportunity that was seminal to my magnum opus?
Did I forfeit a kingdom for want of fingernails to grab onto the difficult choice?
See where that thinking leads?
Don’t know why this concept is so hard for us to understand, or why it takes so long to learn. It should be self-evident: even when you focus on perfection, you never achieve it. No one, ever, in the history of history, has been perfect. So what hubris to pursue it!
So here’s to mediocrity in all endeavors. Embrace your shortcomings, flaunt your failures, celebrate falling short.
In the end, you will enjoy more success. More important, you will enjoy more.