Life is a work in progress

Keep OutHow important is it to finish things? When is something finished? And does it matter that our imcomplete work is seen by others?

A lot of things never get finished, sometimes we abandon, have to stop and call it finished. The classic quote (often misquoted) on such matters is from the French poet Paul Valéry:

In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, whether to the flames or to the public (and which is the result of weariness or an obligation to deliver) is a kind of an accident to them, like the breaking off of a reflection, which fatigue, irritation, or something similar has made worthless.

Sounds a bit miserable. But the key message is that about perfectionism. You’re never going to feel something is finished is you’re aiming for perfection. Sometimes good enough will do.

Other times it’ll be whatever we can get done by the deadline – remember those dissertations that had to be handed in whatever state at college?

Clearly, for some tasks, if a pragmatic view can be taken then calling it a day and moving on to the next thing will be good.

But for other things we’ll need to revisit, revise and continue to improve. When the task is more continuous – like living, being a “better person”, or continuing to master a skill like guitar playing – then there is no end point and no finish. It can be helpful to mark milestones and reaching certain levels, such as mastery of a fourth chord!

Another downside of perfectionism is the reluctance to show what you’re doing. Clearly, there are times when the rough first draft might need a little privacy but opening up your process and work-in-progress can help others, and be of interest. Something Austin Kleon riffs about in his latest book – Share Your Work.

So, don’t worry about imperfections and take down the keep out signs!

What are you working on that isn’t finished?


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