I was a 21-year-old kid.
As a missionary, I had been placed alongside grown American adults. Some had lived in former Czecho-Slovakia for six or seven years. They knew maybe ten words of the language. Knowing ten words after six years is called “not even trying.”
Within six weeks of stepping foot in Slovakia, I convinced someone to drop me off in a village in which 1.) no one knew me and 2.) no one I knew in that village spoke English.
This was a friend of a friend of a friend who dropped me off. I knew enough Slovak not to get killed, though I did violate an unwritten rule of the community: I sat amongst the women at church. At the end of the church service, when 40 or so men appeared, I recognized I had done something wrong.
It was embarrassing. I got over it. I got over it quickly. You live and learn, then you move on.
Many people are too embarrassed to try in life. Life is embarrassing to him who makes an effort. Get over that fact, live, learn, and move on. The un-embarrassing life is not worth living.
Nowhere did anyone I respect ever promise me that perfection was my birthright as a man.
Perfection is the story whispered into your ear by the devil. It is one of the most ungodly things I have ever heard come from a person’s mouth, and it is so disabling to so many. At the root of perfectionism is the worry that one is not good enough. The truth is YOU ARE NOT GOOD ENOUGH to achieve perfection, so instead of sitting on the sidelines of life, you do your best, and you work with what you have.
You accept that and move on, and once you do, so much fantastic stuff can happen in life.
Have you ever used a Microsoft product? It is 30% decent at best. Does that stop Microsoft from being an impressive, world-impacting organization and enriching its founder while magnifying his ability to also impact the world? No. The company makes absolute rubbish software. It does not need to be good. It just needs to be more appealing to the consumer than the competition.
The man who figured out how to cobble together that awful software into a company with some lawyers has turned into a global oligarch pulling the strings of society.
Meanwhile, you are busy telling yourself the story of how you are not good enough. It is a detail to accept and move on with.
Apple products are far more beautiful and work far better than Microsoft products. They, too, are highly flawed products. A critical spirit, of course, can find something to moan about around every corner. Instead of being filled with a critical spirit toward yourself and others, focus on the good you can do in life and do it.
Most people thrive when they focus on getting stuff done rather than focusing on imperfections. The world would love to have people focussed on imperfections. Most humans are entrepreneurs by nature — builders, tinkerers, fixers. They are not janitors by nature — coming along trying to clean up some other guy’s mess. The world wants you to forget that and to be a janitor, so you can easily fit as a cog in a machine that some other guy created, rather than being the unique gift to this world, living the special, imperfect, risk-taking, sometimes embarrassing life that you were put here to bless the world with.
I am probably part of that category of people who are more of a serial entrepreneur than a perfectionist. I have started a handful of companies, some prospered, some did not. I have started a handful of charities. Some prospered. Some did not. I have written dozens of books. Some prospered, some did not. I can blab to you in a handful of languages, none of them perfect, but all of them enough to get by and to communicate to another one of the most important things you can in a language: “I care enough about you and your experience to speak this language to you, even though stumbling through your mother tongue is one of the most difficult and embarrassing things I have done in a long time.” It takes about two words in a foreign language to communicate that. I have worked on hundreds of political campaigns, from the smallest to the biggest. Some prospered, some did not. I have authored thousands of essays. Some prospered, some did not.
I knew no other way to do this.
Because I learned quickly that if you get something 99% perfect, it is going to take you 10 or 20 or 100 times longer than when you get something 80% right. And while you are getting things perfect, meanwhile, the Bill Gateses of the world are blowing right past you because they recognize the futility of perfection in their own lives, all the while demanding perfection of you.
Sometimes, it is not your oppressor’s fault you are so oppressible. It is not the critic’s fault you are so susceptible to their calls for “perfection for thee, but not for me.”
Toughen up and quit worrying about perfection. Follow your inspiration in a focussed fashion and get as much of that inspiration executed on as you can, then move on to the next slice of inspiration you care most about.
“Well,” you may say, “That is one way to approach the world, but you are never going to be a Shakespeare with that kind of attitude.”
And you might be right, I may never be a Shakespeare, but you have got the reason all wrong.
I have studied, read, and taught the works of Shakespeare forwards and backwards for years. Acting out a play in my quiet time is a love of mine. The language is so beautiful. There have been times in the past in which I have collected numerous copies of the same Shakespeare plays, just to get friends over to act out the play on a whim with me.
The last 400 years of English literature is almost all garbage compared to some of that stuff.
But you know what … SHAKESPEARE DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HOW TO SPELL HIS OWN NAME.
I now think I have found 16 or 17 examples of variant spellings attributed to Shakespeare. Some say that means he is not really Shakespeare. Spelling does not say much about that. Truthfully, spelling did not mean as much to an Elizabethan as it did in this era.
Again, take note of the lies the devil tells you, that you may recognize them as the lies they are. Demands for perfection is such a common tool utilized by the devil. One of those lies is about how inferior you are if you are not a perfect speller. There is no shortage of lies that can be whispered in your ear to get you feeling self-absorbed and obsessed with your inadequacies, instead of putting your focus somewhere useful to you.
Perhaps if Shakespeare did not obsess about the perfection of his spelling and the richest software designer in the world did not obsess about the perfection of his awful, buggy software, then perhaps you too might be benefited by not obsessing over the perfection of your work.
Shakespeare’s source texts are a nightmare. They are a disorganized bunch of nonsense. It is almost like a busy writer living the life of an artist wrote them. He did not write plays that were meant to be archived and last 400 years. He wrote and rewrote plays that were meant to be performed next month.
There was not anything even particularly static about his scripts. A lot of editors were required to put in a lot of work to get them to the generally agreed upon form we know today. Those 400 years of editors are called janitors. They maintained what inspiration had created. Shakespeare was the builder. Sometimes people want to convince you to act like a janitor when you are really — like most people who come around these parts — a builder. There is a great lie sold to people contained within that — that they need to be the perfect janitors for others. In contrast to that often unfulfilling work, tapping into their inspiration and doing that 80% well is probably going to bring infinitely more happiness to yourself and others than the work of a glorified janitor.
Do I want you to have low standards through any of that? No, absolutely not. I want you to focus on the things that matter. Perfection is not one of them.
But back to Shakespeare . . . The innovative serial entrepreneur who was just trying to make enough money from his craft to stay afloat, spending as much as he could on getting himself to the levels he knew were obtainable to him, all the while worrying about bosses, investors, family, bills, prima donnas, aristocrats, audience size, managing personalities, and probably an endless list of other concerns I can not even imagine. He was focussed on getting the show off the ground and not on what you, or I would think about how he spelled a word or how he accidentally broke the meter of a line or how he mistook one figure from history for another.
That is some frivolity that this era would worry about.
And every era has its frivolity, but the perfection demanded of you today and that you allow to be demanded of you is not a perfection that was known to Shakespeare.
And you are right, I may never be a Shakespeare, but I also just might be.
It is not the garbage sonnet we recall, it is the good ones. It is not the lost early plays he flubbed that we recall, now lost to us in history; it is the good ones. How many are those?
You think anyone who wrote 37 plays over the course of a lifetime was obsessing about getting it 99% right?
He was out there, honoring that inspiration, playing the game to the best of his ability and moving onward from there, over, and over, and over.
And if you want to prosper, you can not be obsessed with every petty detail either — especially not in a time such as this.
It is not 1992 anymore. The Cold War victory did not just happen. Bill Clinton is not playing his saxophone for Hillary, Nancy Reagan, Donald Trump, and Socks the Cat at an edgy fundraiser. The frivolity of luxuriating in a well-crafted sentence after reading the works of persnickety neo-con William Safire in the Sunday New York Timescan no longer be a frivolity we know. The times are different.
They want to steal your breath. They want to steal your air. They want to steal your heartbeat. They want to steal your home. They want to steal your family. They want you to have the very opposite of what you dream of for yourself.
Shakespeare spelled his own name 17 different ways. Understanding that, do you really think someone is going to get me stressed about a typo?
Focus on what matters.
Do a pretty good job of it.
Then focus on the next thing that matters.
Perfection is just another one of the lies they tell you to shut you up and enfeeble you.
Say no to the nonsense. Push back. Read the bestselling “Face Masks in One Lesson” if you don’t know how. Read “Face Masks Hurt Kids” if you don’t know why. These books are about so much more than face masks. Signup for the hard hitting newsletter at www.RealStevo.com (www.RealStevo.com) if you want a good jolt. Refuse to be enfeebled by their nonsense. There is more here for you than to be someone else’s obedient janitor.