Perfektion

Perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible.” ― Rebecca Solnit,

The day I moved out of my parents’ home, I put into action my plan to become a successful author. I sat down at my apartment’s stained Formica kitchen counter and began to compose the perfect short story. Each word I put down on paper would be the right word and would build on the word before it. Once finished, the resulting story would surely catapult me to the top of the literary world (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine).

It was a tedious process: The moment I realized I’d written something that could be improved upon, I had to go back to where I lost track of perfection and start from there. This was the age of the typewriter, of course, so that meant rumpling up the first piece of paper and rolling in a second one.

Isn’t this how scribes used to reproduce the Bible before the printing press was invented?

Now, before you go rifling through your collection of old Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazines looking for glowing pages, I have to explain that I never actually finished that perfect story. In fact, I think I gave up on the idea (or perhaps ran out of paper), later that same day.

Reflecting on my naive young self, it’s easy to see the flaw in my thinking: I not only believed perfection was attainable, I believed it was necessary for success.

Boy, was I wrong about that.

Nowadays, I work with people who are successful and with people who are unsuccessful. Believe me when I tell you: perfection is not what separates one end of that spectrum from the other. In fact, perfection doesn’t enter the picture at all.

Successful people operate the way we all do: trial and error. Make an attempt, pop it in the oven, and hope for the best. Eventually, you get it right. Then you toss all your failures into the trash and take credit for the finished product.

Probably the most useful attribute I’ve seen in successful people is the ability and willingness to judge what comes out of the oven and make a better attempt the next time. Unsuccessful people either keep following the same old recipe, or, like me in my youth, never dare expose anything to the heat of the oven.

By the way, I kept count as I wrote this article. Had I produced it as a single, typewritten draft without typos, I would have used 248 sheets of paper.