Death by Perfection

It is not inadequacy that is my enemy, it is my belief that I should be above inadequacy.

Perfectionism is the enemy of art.

On a few summer afternoons, my father and I painted on the porch of the Big House. We’d just come back from painting classes in Burlington, Vermont and we could experiment with new techniques.

The feeling of a paintbrush in my fingers thrills me, but my paintings? Not so much.

I fail to make art or share it, because I know it’s not perfect. Not yet. I do not want to expose myself to other’s criticism or hear their good and helpful ideas.

I think I must throw it all out there, acknowledge my work is a work in progress. As is my life.

I remember this slogan from a 12-step meeting, “high perfectionism, low productivity; low perfectionism, high productivity.” If my work is good enough and done, that is far better than perfect and never done.


Learning Is Not Easy

I found my kids’ classrooms and tried not to embarrass them by drawing attention to my enthusiasm for learning.

As reported in the Times magazine article (What if the Secret to Success is Failure? by Paul Tough), the head of school at Riverdale, Dominic Randolph, is passionate about developing character and resilience. On Parents’ Day, Randolph spoke about his passion for learning. Here are some of Randolph’s remarks and my responses:

1. Grammar, syntax — this skills are important. But more important is voice. Voice is mystical. “Finding voice and developing it is like tending to a campfire in the night; it is easily bulldozed.”

Love this. I can have skills but I need craft, which leads me to my unique voice. Craft only shows up when I write daily. Writing, like meditation, is a practice, not an achievement. Voice is difficult to attain and easily dismissed.

2. For skills and knowledge to stick — and our writing to be compelling, simple, elegant — we need emotion and story.

Humans are wired to love stories. There is something in our brain chemistry that begs for a beginning, middle and end. We are always in pursuit of closure and resolution to our stories, but we need and love the pursuit.

Love this picture of kids at Riverdale Country School. Getting out of the classroom and into the sunshine.

3. Learning is hard. We are all in it together. We need to coax and encourage one another to share our learning.

Yes, learning may seem to be a solitary endeavor, but humans are social animals. We need the camaraderie of a shared challenge or pursuit. Pursuing learning is innate, like hunting and gathering. 

4. Learning is experiential. So we move the science class to the bank of the Hudson River.

Get out of the dark interior of your thoughts, your classroom, your computer station; get into the realm of sunshine, river and mud. Invite your senses to partake in learning. Our minds will remember more when our bodies are engaged. 

 After hearing Randolph speak, I was inspired to unleash my enthusiasm for learning and creativity, even if this enthusiasm is a source of constant embarrassment to my kids.

Yesterday, I was inspired again at NYU alumni day, when I listened to John Sexton, president, talk about the city school, “in and of the city.”

The Times article I referenced can be found at: