Our lives, like art, are messy, bedraggled and riddled with chaotic uncertainties. We are the faithful representations of a world gone wrong. An art of imperfection in every sense.
I know people who consider themselves to be perfectionists. When I ask them to define what that is, they say that it is doing something the first time in a way which leads to not having to repeat it.
The perfect phrase, the precise execution of…fill-in-the-blank, or the stalwart adherence to established protocols. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing correctly. And I get this reasoning, for I am no different.
A Perfect Nature
But what they fail to say is that perfectionism, by its very nature, is less concerned with what is being done and more concerned with how it is being done.
This creates a dichotomy between that which is perfect and that which is imperfect. There is no middle ground, and therein lies the danger.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life… ” – Anne Lamott, Author
I once asked a student of mine why they were frustrated after their performance of a particular monologue. Somewhat dejectedly she replied that she felt “off,” and that her performance was more of a recitation. She was unable to connect the dots and she felt that she had let down her audience, and herself. This was not up to par. She was not perfect.
I think it is safe to say that we are imperfect creatures. We try, we fail, we learn. That is the process. No shortcuts. No passing GO. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on the horse. If we recognize this, then why do our expectations so often exceed our limitations?
A good actor or speaker need not fear that which is other than perfect. They should embrace it for it is one of the qualities which make us distinctly human.
Let’s take this one step further: All good scripts are founded upon the premise of human failure. This is because failure is a result of imperfection which leads to conflict and drives dramatic action. Without failure, we are unable to connect with our audiences.
Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
Shakespeare tells us in Act 3, Scene 2 of Hamlet that the purpose of acting is to reveal to ourselves the imperfections of our nature:
“The purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”
Many of Shakespeare’s plays concern themselves with this very notion. From the war-torn streets of Verona to the battlefields of Agincourt, Shakespeare delights and horrifies us with our own reflections.
Simply, perfection is outside his realm of plausibility, and this is how it should be – onstage and off. Don’t make it worse by trying to perfect it.