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Perfection, Inc.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen

Perfect is a nasty word in a writer’s vocabulary. It’s the word that is most likely to lead to writer’s block or a night hanging off the ledge of the highest building in the neighborhood. Perfection is for neurosurgeons and wedding planners.

It is a fact that 96.9 percent of all of my first drafts will be far less than perfect and that the rest will be crap. The simple truth is that if I concentrated on making every word the perfect word I would never get anything written.

Thank God, I accepted this long ago. I am able to stick my inner editor in a coffee can and not let him out (for some reason my inner editor is an insecure, middle-aged, anal-retentive male with a paunch) until my first draft is written. Then, I let him at it. Though he has mellowed over the years he can still be pretty brutal. His favorite question is, “What the f---?”

But that’s okay because I’ve learned to take part of what my inner editor says as valid and toss anything else that is remotely soul crushing. On the best days I can usually pull something really valuable from my pile of mistakes and put it to good use.

The wonderful thing about the world is that nothing is perfect. If you look closely enough, you’ll notice that everything has cracks in it: trees, bridges, cookies, you name it, they’ve all got some teeny crumble, bump or imperfection.

And we humans are the most cracked of all. Despite pretensions to the contrary, each of us flawed in some way. Everyone makes mistakes. We all have hangups we try to hide or secrets we’d rather not reveal. Fortunately, we’re also wired to learn from our failures and deficits.

Think of a little child learning to walk. Falling down more than he moves forward, he keeps getting up. Each stumble teaches him a little more about balance, forward motion and gravity. Falling, getting right back up and falling all over again builds the resilience necessary for development and independence.

It’s this ability to learn through failure that makes humans (along with elephants and the apes) the most interesting creatures on the planet.

Unfortunately we learn at a very early age that it’s best to hide all of that messiness and failure behind a confident smile. Somewhere in our first five years we discover mistakes can earn us disapproval from our parents and later, from teachers and peers. So we invent our own pint-sized inner editor who harangues us for our mistakes and coaches us on how to hide them from the world.

As adults we persist with the pattern, walking around portraying ourselves as mistake-free, flawless people. Sadly, when we look at others we imagine that we’re the only ones who don’t have it together. Then we try even harder to keep up our perfect appearance.

Many of us work so hard at protecting that false image that we avoid doing or attempting to anything with even the most slightest risk of failure. We truncate our genuine, fallible selves to conform to that tiny perfect world. As result, we stop growing and learning.

I say to you gentle reader, “To Hell with that!”

This week, take a big drink from the fountain of possible mistakes. Gulp it down, smack your lips and enjoy the aftertaste of wisdom.

Do something risky—not risk your life risky—something that you have always wanted to do but were afraid you would look stupid doing it.

Stretch yourself just a bit, accept the risk as necessary and I money-back guarantee you that by the end of the week, you will learn something amazing about yourself.

I promise.