Imperfect and Done

You'll never get it out if you try for perfection." These words haunted me while I was trying to sleep. I had written so many things that I never finished, I could have filled the back of a small truck with it all. It's one of the drawbacks to being a writer who is continually learning: By the time you finish writing something and you go back to read it, it already seems immature.

Some day, I thought, I'll get over it. Some day I'll look at what I've written and think it's great. Although this happened all along with short things because I could write it and then go back and read it in one day (and I don't mature that fast), it had never happened with longer things.

So I had those words haunting me when I was trying to go to sleep: "You'll never get it out if you try for perfection." Your book will never get published, you'll never reach the people you want to reach, you'll never make the difference you could have made, you'll never have the influence you could have had, and all because you aren't willing to put something out there that might be imperfect.

Before I went to bed, I was reading a biography of Mark Twain. One of his many investments that failed was in a fast typesetting machine for newspapers. Twain thought it was a marvelous idea, and he put up a lot of money. But when it was finished and Twain was ready to find a manufacturer and sit back and count his profits, the inventor took the machine apart to improve some parts. It wasn't perfect. He needed a little more time.

This same scenario was repeated over and over. Twain kept putting in more money and the inventor keep improving and improving and eventually they waited so long, other technologies had passed them by and the invention became obsolete!

Conrad Hilton said every time he built a hotel, it was never perfect, never complete, never ready to open. Ever. He said he had to just set a date and open, ready or not.

That's true for you and me. We shouldn't wait. We shouldn't keep tinkering until it's perfect. Put the rough idea out there and see what you can do with it. Take what you've got and make something good with it. Write your book and send it off. Get it out, take a chance. Don't die with your music still in you.

No, it won't be perfect. Yes, with a little more time you can make it better. But that will always be the case. But keep putting it out there and you'll learn. And you'll have done some good in the meantime. Then the next one you do will be a little better because you're better and you've had more input from what you did last time.

Life is an imperfect, messy affair. Get on with it. Take your chances and try to make something good from what you have and where you are. And that's good enough. Imperfect and done has more value than perfect and undone.

A new reader has something to add to this. Lee Carnihan wrote to us:

I found your website today and love it. I only wish I'd found it sooner.

I use a quote from Edison to remind me not to pay attention to my fear of mistakes and a need for perfection: “I haven’t failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

I perceive "perfection" differently. I interpret "perfection" more like completeness. The dictionary is a perfect collection of all the words in a language even though it contains the word "mistake," ergo, the dictionary is still perfect precisely because it contains the word "mistake."

If it didn't, it wouldn't be a complete, i.e., perfect, a reflection of the language. You need imperfection to understand perfection. You need the ying to get the yang and together they are complete. I hope that makes sense.

Also, I changed my concept of "time." Time to me doesn't exist, it's not physical, it cannot be measured (no, a clock does not measure time, it's simply a counting device), and since time does not exist, it cannot therefore be used up, lost, gained, wasted or have any other adjective applied to it.

So whatever I do with my time I know I'm using it effectively because I've only got this one moment (the here and now) to exist in. I never wear a watch either. I can find out what the time is from everyone else. Once you stop perceiving time as a finite physical product, it ceases to be an issue of whether or not you are using it effectively.

I used to get very worried about managing my time but when I made an agreement with myself to ALWAYS get the job done regardless of the time, I found my level of anxiety plummeted. Rather than worry that I wasn't being paid for the overtime, or that I'd rather be doing something else, I focused on getting the job done and hey presto, my worries vanished.

kind regards, Lee

Adam Khan is the author of Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot, Principles For Personal Growth, and Slotralogy: How to Change Your Habits of Thought.

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