Tag Archives: perfection

Perfecting the art of letting go

My husband and I had seen only six of the 10 movies nominated for Best Picture for next weekend’s 83rd Academy Awards. So when a rainy afternoon thwarted our plans to go hiking, we decided to see a seventh: “Black Swan,” starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey and Winona Ryder.

Portman plays New York City ballerina Nina Sayers, who is obsessed with the prospect of dancing as the Swan Queen in Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” When Artistic Director Thomas Leroy (Vinent Cassel) names her to the role — with no small amount of skepticism that she will be able to pull it off — she descends into madness in the struggle to portray two violently conflicting sides of her character’s (and her own) nature.

Thomas knows that the sweet, dutiful and repressed Nina will be able to play the White Swan with ease. But she tries so hard to perfect her technique during rehearsals as the Black Swan that she appears stiff and inauthentic. Thomas tries every which way (and some not-so-nice ways) to force her to harness her soul’s capacity for darkness so she can convincingly play the seductive and dangerous Black Swan.

At one point in the movie, Thomas tells Nina, “Perfection is not always about control. Sometimes it’s about letting go.”

Those of us who dream of doing something memorable would be wise to heed that lesson. Perfection is rarely possible. Fear that perfection is unattainable often leads to paralysis.

It’s easy to parrot adages: “You don’t know if you don’t try” or “Winning isn’t everything.” But our society rewards winners, which makes the rest of us, by default, pathetic losers. And prevents many of us from even attempting the struggle.

One of the reasons I signed up for the Post a Day Challenge was that I needed something to force me to keep writing, even when I wasn’t sure I had anything to write. For nearly 22 years I’ve resented the fact that my demanding job as a publisher and editor has gotten in the way of my real dream to be a writer. I have come to realize that nothing was ever in the way but me. So this is the year I put up or shut up.

Some nights, as midnight approaches and I still haven’t hit “publish,” I worry that I will break my streak, which is now 50 days strong. Usually what’s holding me back is the fear that what I’ve written isn’t very good.

But as I run out of time (and energy) I take a deep breath and let my words go, sending them off to the Internet with hope that the people who are kind enough to read them will forgive my imperfections.

And that I might learn, in the process, to forgive them myself.

When it’s not possible (or right) to be nice

Sometimes I hate my job. Usually it’s when I have to tell someone their story is not good enough or their effort is sub-par or I think they’re being sloppy or lazy — or both.

What gives me the right? I’m far from perfect, so how can I expect so much others?

Because it’s my job. An an editor and a boss, it’s my responsibility to demand the best from people — to push them, to make them grow, to force them to dig deep inside themselves to keep getting better. Because otherwise, what’s the point?

Stagnation is a slow death — for a career, for a relationship, for anything that matters. The only exciting dynamic for work, and life, is growth.

So sometimes I have to say something I don’t want to say to people who don’t want to hear it. It twists around in my head and my heart. It gives me an upset stomach and a shaky voice. Sometimes my words don’t come out quite right.

And sometimes I avoid it like the plague.

But when I do that, I’m not just denying my own responsibility. I’m denying the other person a chance to evolve. To be better. To feel better about themselves and their effort. Or to accept the ways they’re lacking and move in a different direction.

It’s not fun. I don’t like this responsibility and I don’t enjoy it. But I’m rarely sorry when I summon the courage to exercise it.

Because most of the time, despite my greatest fears otherwise, the person I have most feared talking to, or writing a critique for, responds in the best possible way: by meeting the challenge, making a better effort and embracing the gift of personal or professional development.

And sometimes, in the midst of these difficult conversations, they share insights that help me grow, too.