Perfection Is Overrated
Renita T. Kalhorn
At a reading at Barnes & Noble for his latest book, Violin
Dreams, Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the renowned
Guarneri Quartet was asked about advances in recording technology.
Steinhardt replied that while digital technology enabled the
production of flawless recordings, in his opinion, they were
lacking in emotion and personality.
He then related an anecdote about the great cellist Pablo
Casals, who was asked by the sound engineer during a recording
session to redo a section where the intonation had been a
little off. Casals replied indignantly: "But that's the way
I played it!"
As someone who hears the constant voice of self-criticism,
I was struck with admiration for Casal's integrity. How many
of us have such loyalty to "imperfect" reality that we would
refuse the opportunity for a do-over? Most of us are much
more focused on achieving perfection - a life free from flaws
Perfection: A Questionable Quest
Performing artists and athletes spend hours practicing their
craft or sport, striving to ensure a "perfect" performance.
In the workplace, we're intent on presenting an unimpeachable
front to colleagues and superiors, and legions of brides spend
outrageous sums to create the ideal wedding day.
But what is perfection exactly -- and how do we know when
we've achieved it? Is it possible that the eternal pursuit
of perfection could actually spell eternal dissatisfaction?
What can't we simply have Casal's attitude of appreciation
for "the way we played it"?
Perhaps you've been to a dance performance where one of the
dancers had faultless technique and yet it was the one with
less orthodox form whose uninhibited energy and passion captured
your attention. Even in fashion magazines where airbrushed
perfection reigns, some of the most successful models have
been the ones with prominent "flaws" -- Cindy Crawford's mole,
Lauren Hutton's gap-toothed smile. Makes you wonder whether
absolute perfection isn't actually a little boring.
A Moving Target
Of course, this isn't to say that we shouldn't seek to improve
and achieve our best. But in this age of computer and surgical
wizardry, the standards of perfection are constantly changing,
heightening our fear of making mistakes or appearing less
When you find yourself more focused on hiding your blemishes
than enjoying your life, you might keep these points in mind:
- Keep it real. For many of us, perfection equates
with receiving approval and being liked (or at least not
annoying anyone): "If I'm perfect, everyone will love me."
But while people may be fascinated by the promise of perfection,
they won't necessarily be comfortable in its proximity.
As humans, we stumble and fall, blurt out inappropriate
comments. It's what makes us authentic and not automatons.
And when we see that others - even the kickboxing instructor
at your gym with the "perfect" body - do the same, we feel
a greater connection with them than we would if they never
- Appreciate your mistakes. Traveling the path toward
perceived perfection means experiencing glaring imperfection.
But paradoxically, it is our fear of appearing foolish that
impedes us. Why not emulate young children, who learn without
inhibition or self-doubt because they're more caught up
in the joy of self-expression and learning new skills than
they are in the fear of making a mistake. After all, mistakes
serve to help us appreciate expert execution all the more.
- Is it perfect yet? Regardless of how far we've
come, we maintain our insistence that, "No, if only it were
like this, then it would be perfect." Where did we
get our notions of perfection anyway - is it possible that
we've been conditioned by society and media into a false
belief that there is universal agreement when, in fact,
there's no definitive consensus on what that is? Is the
"perfect" dinner party the one with the exquisite flower
arrangements, carefully matched settings and elaborate desserts,
or the one with nonstop laughter?
So when you're beating yourself up because things are not
going the way you think they should, who's to say you can't
pronounce things perfect just as they are - no matter how
frustrating, embarrassing or out of tune - because "that's
the way you played it"?
2006-2007 Copyright © Renita T. Kalhorn All rights reserved.
Peak performance coach Renita T. Kalhorn is a Juilliard-trained
pianist with an international MBA and a first-degree martial
arts black belt. She specializes in helping entrepreneurs
and corporate professionals achieve extreme focus to reach
the top of their game at work. Subscribe to In The Flow,
her FREE monthly newsletter and receive her FREE Energy Playbook,
Find Your Flow! 21 Simple Strategies to Banish Tedium,
Reduce Stress and Inspire Action at http://www.intheflowcoaching.com.
Article Source: Renita
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