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On the pursuit of perfect and the process


Perfect is not a word I grew up with.
I'm fortunate enough to say that there was never any expectation for perfection in my family.
We just didn't really do perfect.
We did messy, crazy, real. We did chaos and beauty and unfinished projects, we did half-baked ideas and we did barely organised adventures. We did spontaneous a great deal, often with mixed results. We didn't do the idea of perfect; of saving face or pretending to be or have it all together if we weren't.
We didn't do perfect, we just did our best because we were taught that was, in fact, enough.

But I think we also understood the idea of perfect. It has a way of creeping in doesn't it?
I remember it most vividly as a word I would use when I wanted to wind up my little sister, the way you do with siblings. "Oh you're so purr-fect, little miss purr-fect," I would sing-song, as she would vehemently deny the accusation.
Perfect was not something we as a family had ever strived for, but in a way, we understood its presence, the threat of it, of what chasing perfection might mean.
Perfectionism seemed to me like something other people strived for. Something that, in a way, haunted the people I loved from time to time but never fully managed to engage me in my adolescence.
As a teenager I was obsessed with the idea of being 'different', (which led to some questionable experiments in clothing and hairstyles), but I wonder now if it also was a way in which my teen self rejected the idea of being or looking perfect. I badly wanted to be considered 'outside of the box', not to fit neatly within it.

It's occurring to me as I write this, that while sometimes growing up is unlearning old habits and thinking patterns, it's also sometimes learning to be more like your younger self.

In the four years I spent at design school,  one of the most important things they try to teach you is that the process is more valuable than the product.
When you start a creative project, you almost always start with a question.
You try to start with an open question, start by asking something you don't know how to answer at the time of asking.
You start with a question that leads to 15 more questions and you start with trying to answer those. In the creative process, we often make or write or build things in an attempt to answer those questions.
But answering them is not actually the point.
In the asking and attempting to answer, you explore, you play, you try to figure things out. The answers serve as gateways to other questions; to asking, 'If I do that, what will that look like? When I do this, this makes it do that. That isn't where I thought it would go, but what if I...?' and so on.
This part of the creative process is my favourite. The tutors would always implore us to 'go wide and go deep' with our research, to pursue the branches and offshoots that interested us most, that asked the most interesting questions and challenged what we thought we knew. This exploration let to experiments, it led to making and re-making, it led to mistakes and it also led to breakthroughs. Sometimes they were one in the same - known to us as happy accidents. It was detrimental in this stage of the creative process to edit and perfect. To attempt to push something in a direction it didn't want to go would mean you were likely to miss the magic of things happening as they should. Things you couldn't imagine when you first started asking.

A project starts with a question and leads to a process.
The process is hindered by chasing perfection.
The product is a result of giving over to the process fully before it's time to perfect it.

It's something I understand intrinsically in the creation of art.
It's something I've been struggling to understand and implement in life.

I ask a lot of questions.
I have for as long as I can remember.
My mother would tell you that from the minute I could talk, I was asking questions.
I would talk to strangers in the street, forever asking them "Why?".
I ask myself a lot of questions. They too, as in the creative process, lead to more questions.
In my family we call this processing. It's the act of asking until there is illumination in an area of our lives, or we can learn to comfortably live with the unknown.
I support my family members in their many stages of processing and of figuring things out, to be present to the questions they find themselves asking.
It's a demonstrative act of love and trust, to be let in when someone finds themselves asking some of life's harder questions. It's an invitation to be part of their process and to be there in kindness and understanding.

But I am realising that I am not always the kindest with myself.
I am not always good at giving over to the process as I'd like to believe I am, because as in art; the process is hindered by chasing perfection.
This is truest with me right now in two areas of my life: In my friendships and in my writing.

The process is hindered and often halted by so many things.
It's stalled by comparison and competition, the idea that other people are being or doing something better than I can ever hope to. Or the sense that because I am not the best, I should probably just stop trying. It's the idea that failure is somehow inevitable and final, that anything I might learn in the process isn't worth experiencing that sense of failure.
It's the idea that that things will not be as they once were, and that it can only be a negative. I fear for the survival of some friendships in the hands of time; that the people I love and hold close may drift away. I sometimes fear running out of words, of stories to tell or whether I will have the guts to tell them. In some ways I think I fear change, fear things that are familiar becoming foreign, or becoming lost.

I wrestle with my unrealistic expectations of myself. Wrestle with the idea that I will be able to consistently put in an impossible amount of energy and time into every single one of my relationships; that if I try, I will get to see people I love as often as I or they would like.
It's the expectations I put on myself to give and give and give more energy than I have, and the expectation that I will  never need to take time filling up my emotional tank in order to do so. It's the expectation that every. single. word I write will be perfectly considered and well placed; that the metaphors I use will be some kind of magic, that the things I write will move every person who might ever possibly read them.

I can find myself crippled by the fear of disappointing people, especially when it comes to disappointing the people I love, and the people I know are cheering for me. I regularly feel I will unintentionally hurt or make those I care about feel anything less than absolutely loved and valued by me. I fear disappointing those who see my potential and encourage me in writing the most.

It's all fear. I know this. A lot of it is also irrational and in my head and it's fed in those moments of deep self-doubt and insecurity.  But it's the reason I stop and start, why I love you so much but don't call that often and why it's taken me months to publish anything to this blog.

It's the beginning and the end.
This moment right here.
It's the realisation that the process has been hindered for far too long by fear and comparison, by unrealistic expectations and the impossible pursuit of perfection.

This is the beginning - the return to the questions with no answers, the pen and paper pondering, the messy midnight writing. It's the beginning of being kind and patient with myself in the process.
It's the act of releasing myself from lofty expectations of greatness and a renewed commitment to writing and living from a place of grounded-ness, of heart and soul and authenticity, and learning to be okay with less than perfect.
It's the beginning of accepting that friendships and relationships are complex, living things that require work and patience and also a lot of grace and room to be less than perfect. It's about holding on to, and in some cases, mending or renewing friendships, and in other cases, about letting go.

This is the end of letting fear and frustration win.

Time will tell what the reality of that looks like. But I feel less worried about that now.

In design school they teach you that a good project is never really finished.
That when the time you were given to answer the original question is up, you will not only have beautiful things to show for it, but you will also be left with more. More questions, more avenues to go back and explore, more ideas and inspiration and a sense of brave openness to the unexpected and the impossible to imagine. They warn against any project ever being deemed as complete and perfect in its entirety, and that to think so is an indicator that you were not thorough in the process.
Perfection in the end means that the project wasn't very good.

It's tricky,  I know, to commit to the process both in art and in life. It will ask you to get to a place where you are forced to wrestle with disappointment and doubt, but also invited to see beauty in the way things can work out better than you could have imagined.

And so dear reader, here we are. At the beginning, but also at the end of this post.
It's not perfect. Far from it. It's the best I have right now and it's enough.
It's real and it's mine and it's from the heart.
And it's a reminder that it can be yours if you want it to be.
May you be brave in the process, whatever that looks like for you.
May you be gracious and kind with yourself as you figure it out.

Yours in chaos,
Smallest Soul.

Extra small 
You made it to the end! Thank you for so much reading. 
This one if for the people who encourage me to write and the friends who have loved me regardless of my faults. You know who you are. 
I'm also currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book 'Big Magic' and its relevant to this. 

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