There is a Russian proverb that roughly translates to “the first pancake is always a lump”.
All of my pancakes used to be lumps. Ugly, ugly lumps. For a ‘perfectionist’ like me, that was unacceptable. So I got to work on perfecting them, until one day they were golden, round and all the same size. Can you imagine my happiness? I made picture perfect pancakes.
Then, a couple of months ago, my 10- year old daughter asked if her best friend could come for a sleepover and if I could make monster pancakes for breakfast.
“Monster pancakes?” I scratched my head. “What do you mean?”
“Mum, my friend and I always loved your monster pancakes. We used to give them names and it was so much fun eating them. Now, they are just, ummm… plain pancakes.”
I was stumped and utterly devastated. Here I was, proud of my perfect pancakes, thinking that everyone around me appreciated the time and effort it took to get there. Instead, I’d completely misinterpreted what my audience wanted. For them, the lumpy, ugly pancakes were the perfect ones.
The next morning, I stomped to the kitchen to make the dreaded monster pancakes. Soon enough, I realized that I was enjoying making perfectly imperfect lumps of dough that made little people happy.
As I watched the kids polish the pancakes, it dawned on me that I’d done this to my writing too. I constantly tinker with the story, perpetually searching for a perfect phrase or a unique word, to a point when the original buzz of the narrative evaporates and all that is left becomes dreadfully painful and revolting, and a project gets abandoned. It was truly a light bulb moment. For the first time ever, what I knew intellectually found its mark at the emotional level – the pursuit of perfection is an utter bullshit!
For the last couple of months I’ve been embracing a practice of wabi-sabi – accepting and celebrating that everything has a degree of asymmetry and imperfection. I won’t lie; I still hyperventilate every time I think that what I’m sending out there is utterly crap (including this post). But, we now say in our house, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes you skilled” and “JGSD!” or “Just Get Shit Done!”
And we are back to eating monster pancakes.
What about you? Do you struggle with ‘perfectionism’?