The Vulnerability of Imperfection

piano, keys, hands, musician, music, instrument, dark, shadows

“Practice makes perfect.” You’ve heard it before, haven’t you? The popularity of this saying probably comes from the certainty and positivity it suggests. Do this, get that. Easy peasy. The day to day reality of practicing can be grueling, but if “practice makes perfect,” it’s worth the time and effort.

However, far from an opportunity to bask in perfection, practice itself requires an intense scrutiny of our flaws as we attempt to become incrementally better. Perfection may be the end goal, but good practice requires delving into our imperfections and weeding them out.

What I’m trying to say is that practicing can be scary.  We’re exposing our half-formed selves to the world, and announcing “Here’s a thing I’m not good at!”  Whether it’s writing or public speaking or throwing a ball through a hoop, the first step to getting better is acknowledging that our skill level isn’t where we want it to be.

When I practice my singing, I make sure to target the hardest parts of the song, like those high notes that I struggle to hit… and practice them over and over again. I know that if I do this enough, taking time to analyze what I’m doing wrong, I’ll get better. But in the meantime, that critic in the back of my head is saying “what are your poor neighbors thinking right now, listening to this awful noise?” Yeah, I know my voice isn’t great now. But I also know that if I am patient and diligent, it will get better. Hopefully.

It’s a fine balance, acknowledging my flaws head-on, while maintaining my confidence.  I can get lost in my own negativity, fixating on all of the things that I’m doing wrong.  I get stuck on how impossible my goals seem–at least, I feel this way about singing. Although it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, I’m relatively new to singing.  I don’t have the track-record of successful auditions and performances that I had in my former life as a flautist. I don’t have proof that I can sing, only faith… and my faith is shaky. But the faith that I can reach my goals is the only thing that keeps me going.

When I’m feeling discouraged, I think about a story that my high school band director used to tell us every year: I’ve noticed something when I walk by the practice rooms. Sometimes I’ll walk by and hear something that sounds fantastic, and think “Wow, that’s great!” And in the next room, I’ll hear someone drilling away at a piece they haven’t mastered yet and think, “Yikes, that needs work…” But by the end of the year, those people who only practiced the songs that sounded great—the ones they had already mastered—didn’t really improve. It was the students who were working hard and pushing themselves who improved the most over the year. So don’t be afraid of sounding bad. Practice makes better.

Yes, “practice makes better.” In the end, practice shouldn’t be about perfection, but rather about growth. If you have a goal in mind, you can begin to work toward achieving it. It might not come right away, but with patience and diligence you’ll get there.

What keeps you working toward your goals when you feel discouraged? How do you silence your inner critic?

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22 thoughts on “The Vulnerability of Imperfection

  1. Great piece, and so true. I love discovering new perspectives on things through others, thank you! Your question at the end, I never really thought about what keeps me pushing. Does it sound weird that at this point my answer, really, is “nothing”? What I mean by that, is generally that I’m just the type of person that once I set my mind to wanting to do something, learn something, or improve a skill… I just do it.. I suppose Im a bit single-minded in that aspect lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 🙂 I think it’s awesome that you’re naturally motivated to go out and do things without questioning too much–it’s probably healthier than what I do! I’m definitely an over-thinker, and would probably benefit from being more single-minded!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You ask such pointed questions. Fear of failure (being honest) keeps me plugging away. I know, however, that I cannot fail if I have given my all.

    Keep practicing…everyday is a new lesson!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I use to believe that giving myself a small break was a good idea when I am discouraged… (but it isn’t)… it really meant that I was quitting but not honest enough with myself to admit it. My parents always lectured me about “finishing” what I start (I used to take up things and then when I saw that it was hard… quit and move on to something else)… sometimes I hear their voices telling me to “finish it” and that keeps me working on my goals even when discouraged… it is amazing how things your parents have said can stay with you your whole live

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so true! I’m a natural procrastinator, so any time I find myself veering into “I’ll do it later…” territory, I know things are getting bad! It really is amazing how our parents’ and mentors’ words stick with us!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love, “Don’t be afraid of sounding bad.” Love. Love. Love! It’s so vulnerable to put yourself out there. We all have to start somewhere.You are so right. It’s about growth, not perfection. I just read an article today that discussed embracing our imperfections. Someone must be trying to tell me something 😉

    And to answer your last questions…What keeps me working towards my goal is thinking about the specific lifestyle I’m hoping to achieve through a writing career. I think about my daughter and the kind of mom I want her to grow up watching. That is a huge motivating factor for me…and having an encouraging spouse is HUGE blessing to be sure. Silencing my inner critic has been a struggle all my life. I want to prove to myself that I’ve got what it takes. I silence my inner critic when I finish a piece of work. Whether I love it or not, I’ve finished it and that’s a small victory in my book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for you kind words! This post was definitely written from a place of deep anxiety and searching for hope–it’s the kind of pep talk I have to give myself frequently!

      I love the way you describe your motivations and inspirations! You are blessed to have so much love in your life! And celebrating each accomplishment along the way is a great way to show that inner critic that you’re unstoppable!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Addie I just love you! I’m glad we’ve crossed paths 😉 I read Stephen King’s book “On Writing” and he talks about writing being a lonely profession and I am finding that he is right. It’s so nice to have a blogging community!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. My music Ed professors used to tell us “practice makes permanence” and I think that fits in with getting better. First it get better, then you don’t stop, you keep practicing so the skill or song or task is consistent or permanent each time. I thought this was a great post, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What keeps me working towards my goals is the wonderful sense of accomplishment that compels me to keep practicing. Call me tenacious, because I am. I was raised by a loving “no excuses” mother. She wanted me to succeed, and the look on her face when I did still reminds me. I love new and different. You rarely stay in a small space when you’d rather expand to the next level of personal excellence. Failure is information. Just a mention!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. What a great idea Addie. Consider finding this quote, copying it and posting in your line of sight, or making it into a screensaver. It’s also listed this way…”Failure = feedback.” Either rings of truth. We just have to believe. Highest and Best!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so on point! I struggle with staying motivated when I’m not good at something right away. I’ve learned that telling someone about my goals helps me feel accountable. But telling them to soon before I’m “ready” makes me worry I’m raising doubt. How to strike the balance between setting a goal (that says, clearly I know I need work!) and having others supporting you (meaning, “We believe you can do it!”) ??

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’ve summarized my thoughts exactly! I feel like there’s a stage between committing to a goal and being confident about sharing it–but it’s so hard to move forward without sharing your goals and seeking support. I don’t know if there’s a perfect solution, other than to start by tackling manageable goals, and begin by telling only the people you trust most… but I’m definitely a hesitant “always test the waters” type!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This entry really resonates with me. I, too, am a singer. In high school, our director used to tell us “perfect practice makes perfect,” which is a very different sentiment than what you expressed in your piece (and should tell you a bit about how soul-sucking my high school choir experience was at times). THANK YOU for these very refreshing words on growth, failure, and progress. The only way to truly improve is to open yourself up and be vulnerable to criticism, mistakes, and exposure of imperfections. It’s true of any hobby, talent, or skill, but it’s also true on a much larger scale — there’s such a stigma in our society when it comes to acknowledging our shortcomings, our weaknesses, our misconceptions. If we could all let go of that and be open to growth, real growth, the world would absolutely be a much better place.

    Liked by 1 person

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