This guest post was written by my partner and friend, Bob Gower. It was too beautiful to keep to myself. With tears of joy and gratitude streaming down my face, I share it with you. XO, Alex
Today I’m giving up on perfection—on the idea that it’s possible, and on the idea that holding it as a vision is valuable at all.
For most of my life I’ve imagined the extremes. I’ve looked at war and wanted to end war, I’ve looked at agriculture, or culture, and wanted to envision a perfect system, a sustainable system, a system that would exist unchanging on into the future.
But perfection is situational. The job or relationship that was perfect for me at 20 is not the same that suits me now at 47.
And this vision of perfection just makes me crazy. It has me ask questions like “why can’t things be this way now?” But the universe always answers such conceits with “because it’s not.”
Now we may think it would be useful to imagine perfection to have some clear vision we are heading towards. And while I concede a vision is important a vision of perfection is not.
Our visions are bounded by time. Which means the vision I can imagine for myself now is far different than what I was able to imagine for myself a few years ago. Substantially different.
What’s useful is to know what’s important to ourselves right now. Not in 20 years but today. How much money do I need? How much time with my kids? How much sleep and leisure time? What are the things that make me feel full. And again, not far in the future but right now. Today.
Let’s start with sleep. How much did you get last night? How much would you like to have gotten? What’s the impact on your quality of life and quality of work when you get less than you need?
Lets say you got 6 but want and feel you need 8. Is it possible to get 8 tonight? What would have to change for this to happen? And what would be the impact if it did?
Can’t imagine 8? how about 6.25? Let’s get closer to the goal with the understanding that as the goal comes closer it will also come into focus and we’ll be able to se the limitations of this goal and will likely want to change it even before we get all the way to it.
But perfection. Perfection is a hard taskmaster. Perfections—like a world without war or a world without hunger, or a world of pure and easy abundance—are fantasies. Perhaps useful as some far off goal but they ignore that the poor will be with us always.
No perfection sucks. It slows us down it has us ban things because we are afraid they might change things. But to be alive is to change. And yes, change kind of sucks.
But static visions just piss me off. How many times have I not done something because I couldn’t do it perfectly or didn’t want to take the time to work hard and get to perfection. I can’t dance perfectly so don’t dance, I can’t act professionally so never even try out for community theater.
I used to play guitar and sing quite a bit. But recently my guitar has lived under my couch and get’s pulled out less than twice a year. But a recent request to video myself singing a song—a friend is editing together a montage for a dear friends memorial service—meant I had to pull the guitar out and tune it up.
I could have practiced for days but instead I practiced for an hour or so. My fingers got tired but I heard the heart of the song and just sang. I messed up the words, the melody, and the rhythm at times but in a single take got something that felt right. The years of practice fell away and all that was left was me and my feelings and the song. And the video had heart.
This is what we need—heart.
“Heart” means connection, presence and real-ness. Not some distant view of isolated perfection. Leave virtuosity to the professionals and never think of yourself as a professional.
Connect with your work, do your best and leave the results of your labor up to someone or something else. And don’t worry about where it all will end. Because it all will end someday. I will end, you will end, the world will end. Perhaps all to birth something new and perhaps not—but whatever your concerns right now, no matter how large, one day they will seem trivial and distant.
When I was a young man I found my father’s choices in life to be absurd. When I got older I saw he was doing the best he could, when I got older still I deeply appreciated the sacrifices and decisions he made and how much he taught me through is presence. And when I spoke at his funeral last year I realized that my father was perfect. All his flaws, all his foibles, all his skill and talent in all that he worked for—all this made him perfect. Just perfect.
I would not change a thing about him. In fact I can’t—he’s dead and his actions for good or ill are all in the past. As soon as you realize that you too are dead—that the person you were yesterday is gone and will never return and you are by definition perfect right now as you are, and the only question worth asking is “what next?” the sooner you will rise to your full impact in the world.
Perfection holds you back. Do your best, be present, and give the results up to a power far greater than yourself. You are but a small part of life. Play that part and let life take care of itself.
Follow Bob Gower and his upcoming book project on Twitter: @bobcanhelp