Thursday, June 10, 2010

Life is a Verb: Week 2

Life is a Verb Thursday began last week when I reviewed the book by Patti Digh.  I was so taken with some of the thought-provoking statements she made, that I have decided to focus on one statement per week during my summer vacation.

Last week she discussed the fact that five-year-olds are totally uninhibited and claim to have all kinds of abilities: they can paint and dance and sing; they are smart and funny and creative.  But something happens between the ages of five and eighteen and all of a sudden our sense of adventure and self-confidence dwindles.  If we cannot do something well - I mean nearly perfect - then we tell ourselves that we can't do it at all.  Why is this?  I hope you were able to discover some falsehoods about this statement this week and have vowed to dismiss the tyranny of perfectionism and instead welcome the joy of experimentation.

This week I will focus on the statement that deals with perfectionism and a fear of failure:
...Art and Fear brings us the story of a pottery teacher who tells half his class they'll be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produce.  He'll even use a scale to weigh their output and determine their grade.  Fifty pounds of pots would rate an A, for example.  The other half would be graded on quality and need only produce one pot - a perfect one - to get an A.   
"The works of highest quality," the authors reported, "were all produced by the group being graded for quantity...while they were busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes - the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay."  (page 66 of the Inclusion section).
Oh my ... does this hit home with me!  I want to write - not for the purpose of being published but more for the joy of writing (and the academic and creative challenge).  And yet I have such grandiose expectations of myself (even after Anne Lamott has told me that all writers produce sh*tty first drafts) that I don't even start. I would never expect to play the piano perfectly after just one lesson; or to know my multiplication facts after the first day; or to compete in the US Open after my first week of tennis.  Why do I expect to write (or paint or draw or sing or take pictures or ......) without lots of practice? What if I knew that the number of pages written a week/month/year would net me the "A" in writing?  Being the goal driven person that I am I would most definitely write the minimum number of pages for the A -- plus two extra for good measure.  So why can't I do this on my own?  Why am I so afraid of failure -- when I am not even sure that "failure" exists?

What is holding you back from trying something new - from daring to take that interest to the next level - from fulfilling your heart's desire?


  1. I missed your ost on Life is a Verb, but I think I just found a new must read book!

    I think on e of the the thing that happens between 5 and 18 is that we start to have some notions of consequences and responsibility. Though it is hardly true, it often feels that having to work at something is wasting our time if we don't excel right away, and I also know that I am sometimes guilty of not concentrating on my own progress.

    I think it's good idea to only compare me to me, but sometimes looking at how others rae doing gets in there as well.

  2. Wow - I need this book. I am nearly 40,000 words through my first draft and I can assure you it is absolutely crap. But I know that I will improve it once it is finished. You can do it too!!!

  3. Oh my, that does hit close to home! Like you, I have always wanted to write, but I don't start because I'm afraid I'll find out I can't do it well.

    On the other hand, I can play the piano (after many years of lessons) but no amount of practice is going to get me to Carnagie Hall - but that doesn't stop me from pounding away and enjoying myself. Why can't I apply that theory to writing?

    Thanks for sharing your deep thoughts.

  4. That definitely hits home. I am someone who hates not having success at first try. I know it's silly to expect, but I still expect. I never learned swimming as a child, so I started taking classes recently. I took 8 classes and was still struggling with freestyle. Then I took a break during which I realized that I was expecting things to happen in an instant. I went back after several months without any of those expectations, but just focused on practice. Not surprising that I finally managed to get the hang of things.

  5. I can definitely relate to perfectionistic tendencies that keep you from doing what you really want to do. I'm working on getting better about it!

  6. Another wonderful thing to think about. You're really going to make me think this summer aren't you? I think I'll write about it and come back and share my post when I'm done.

    And get writing!!!!!!!

  7. I saw you mention this book on your blog, and ordered it from my library. It's ready to be picked up and I can't wait to dig in :)

  8. I have this book on my wishlist. I'm happy to hear you are enjoying it so much that you want to spend time this summer writing about it!

  9. I discovered your blog when Lynne of “Lynne’s Book Reviews” reviewed “Life is a Verb” on her blog. I love this meme and was so taken with this post I linked to it on my blog. I’m looking forward to the entire series and have added, “Life is a Verb” to my TBR list.


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