Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When Was The Last Time You Did Something Really Well?

Ben Taylor--"Nothing I Can Do" (mp3)

Not pretty well. Not better than most other people could do. Not better than average. Not competently. Not good enough. Not as good as time allowed. Not acceptable for someone else's standard (or your own slipping one).

When was the last time you went all out? The last time you went above and beyond? The last time you left it all on the field?

That's what I thought. Me, neither.

And that's what came to me today in a random moment: I'm not sure that I have ever done my absolute best. On anything. I'm not talking about perfection or something that is unattainable. I'm talking about a time when I had done enough training or other advanced work, when I gathered everything that I would need, when I got myself into a proper frame of mind, when I prepared my body to be able to sustain an all-out effort, when I sought out the guidance or help that I would need, when I practiced over and over and over, when I had as complete a focus as I could have, when I shook off self-doubt, when I abandoned my original approach and conceived a new, better one, when I said no to something else that was a distraction, when I kept going back to something that wasn't working until it finally worked, when I followed all the way through, when I evaluated my progress and tweaked it, when I both came up with my best final "product" and cleaned up the work space. Because that's what it takes.

I have never:

--mastered a song.
--perfected a recipe.
--rewritten something until I was convinced that it was as good as I could make it.
--put every single thing I had into a relationship.
--prepared as fully for a class as I should have.
--truly listened.
--read the Bible thoroughly. Just completely.
--pushed myself as hard as I could running around a track.
--studied the masters (of anything).

And now I don't think I could do that if I wanted to. I have satisfied myself with less for too long. For example, I will put this little piece of writing to bed long before I should, because I will want to have it done, because it will feel like I have invested enough time into it for the purpose it may serve, because I have imposed a deadline on it. There's no real reason I couldn't set it aside, sleep on it, and ponder a better approach tomorrow. It doesn't have to come out tonight. But it will. Because it will be decent, good enough.

And, let's be honest, the world, or at least my little world, doesn't really want my best. This world, at least as I have set myself up in it, wants varying levels of decency from me at varying times. I have filled my days with enough jobs, and duties, and obligations that to have one distinct area where I am seeking near-perfection at the expense of everything else simply would not work. For one thing, it would require a different kind of mind than what I have right now.

I have the mind of a manager. And that's not just because Management was my college major. It's because I have embraced (or accepted?) a lifestyle where I juggle responsibilities. That's what I do. You, too, right? No litany of the roles that we play in a day will follow--that will sound like some kind of justification for what I have not been able to do. That's not what I'm after.

Today's moment, today's epiphany, is that reminder of why I will never be an artist. The singularity of focus, the constant refinement of vision, the sheer hours required are not part of who I am anymore, if they ever were. To do one thing really, really well means that I would only do that one thing. And I don't have either the desire or the self-discipline. Or, I suppose, the ability. That's what I'm really saying.

Still, part of me thinks that I would like to know what that is like. It is not necessarily rewarding to have various events, projects, milestones, roles over, done with, completed and to know that I could have done better. Day to day, it can really wear me down, knowing that I've got to get something finished and to be satisfied with the way it is because I have to move on to something else. But, despite my apparent resignation, the beauty of life is that push for our best always seems possible, doesn't it?

1 comment:

cinderkeys said...

Some of my songs might qualify. A result of songwriting being the one thing I'm really good at, and the fact that I don't have to write songs on deadline.

That said:

"Real artists ship." ----Hugh McLeod

More important to get it out there than to get it perfect, if those are the only choices.