Embracing Imperfection

Many artists and performers are perfectionists to a fault, and this both propels them to glory and haunts them all the way through dress rehearsal.  But audiences delight in their performance from the recording studio to the encore, oblivious to the countless mistakes made in between.

blog_banners2021 (10)-1

We all have standards and expectations, and this keeps us accountable and motivated to do something the correct way and to our satisfaction, but I’m here to tell you:  Perfection is not a realistic standard.  As a former student of music, I am no stranger to perfectionism.  Preparing for a recital or other performance required hours of practice:  slowing down the tempo from presto to andante, only increasing the speed after each flawless pass.  It was hours in a room with just me and my saxophone.  I could take my time, try again, rinse and repeat.  But if I expected to play something perfectly without practice, I wouldn’t have made it to the stage.

The problem with approaching other tasks (such as learning a language) as a perfectionist is two-fold:  1) You run the risk of serious frustration in the initial stages of practice (“I can’t even play it this slowly?!”), and 2) you can become paralyzed by errors, never moving past them, and consequently never advancing to the later stages of practice, perhaps never even finishing the task.  It doesn’t matter if you are writing a thank-you note to a relative or cleaning a bathroom:  focusing on perfection can drive you crazy and interfere with your progress.  Write a draft, do a surface clean, but at least do it and get it done.  But if you don’t clean the guest bathroom or send that note before Aunt Bertha visits at Easter, you’re certain to lose video game privileges for at least a week.  Plus, Bertha skims thank-you notes at best, so who cares about your preposition placement in the second paragraph?  She doesn’t and you shouldn’t.  Care about whether you gave thanks for that cat puzzle she sent you for Christmas.

Also remember that perfection is not ubiquitous.  If everyone were perfectionists, very little would get done and very few people would feel good about anything.  Imagine if you prepared for FIFA & Fosters night with your pals like you might prepare for a literature presentation. You’d probably feel like a nervous wreck instead of enjoying your time.  Obviously, your friends have very different expectations of you compared to your professor or boss (whose jobs are to evaluate your performance, after all).  But in the end, nobody in the room is perfect, nor do they expect you to be perfect.  While you may notice your mistakes, most people are too busy thinking about themselves. All that’s expected is that you participate, contribute, and finish what you start.

The hero’s journey is not complete without adversity, setbacks, and even a taste of doom.  Let your battle scars become your trophies.  Let that time you felt supremely embarrassed at TJ Maxx forever remind you of how to properly pronounce “khakis” (or at least how NOT to pronounce it.)  So, get out there, make mistakes, try to notice them, and use them to practice and improve for your next attempt or even your next performance.

paralyzed: (adj) unable to move, act, function, or progress

ubiquitous: (adj) present or found everywhere

Back to Blog

Related Articles

TOEFL vs. IELTS: Which is better?

“Should I take TOEFL or IELTS?” and “Which one is better?” seem to be perennial questions of many...

The benefits of movement and exercise for learning

More than a year into the pandemic, it dawned on me that my nighttime classes might feel better if...

Using the “T” sound in American English is hard.

Many people complain about how hard it is to learn English, and up to a certain point, I tend to...