Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better and your better is best. – St. Jerome
Nothing comes easily, does it? However much we wish that things happened quickly, that obstacles didn’t exist, that we got there fast – reality seems to get in the way and one of the places where reality is really quite obdurate has to do when you’re trying to do something well.
I’m not a particularly pessimistic sort of person but I think anyone who creates anything probably has a sort of angst about what they’re doing. It’s never quite right and you could have always done it better if you had more time or had a chance to do it over. I suppose you have a choice every time. Do you let something less than perfect out into the world or do you hold back – perhaps not do anything at all because you’re not good at it?
It’s a little reassuring that others feel this way too. I was on a session today with someone who clearly knew what they were doing – but also felt that some of their work wasn’t quite as good as they would have wanted. It was still really quite good and they weren’t producing exceptional work and humble-bragging. They genuinely felt that they had room to improve.
It’s quite easy to get caught up in a cycle of self-doubt – of introspection and internal analysis. It may be a cultural thing that some of us are more prone to. I remember a phrase about Gandhi – possibly by V.S. Naipaul or Pico Iyer – I can’t quite remember the source, where the writer railed against how Gandhi seemed to focus entirely on how he felt inside, ignoring the way the world looked outside. I remember thinking about that criticism and a description of the protagonist in Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance discovering the world around him, and noticing everything outside. This idea of inside and outside is interesting – and of course it’s pointless to ask which matters more. They both matter. Without an inside you have a husk. Without an outside you have no form.
How do you balance an internal and external reality – something that is consistent and useful? Where what you say you want to do and what you are in sync with each other. The easiest way is to ask yourself what you did last month, last year. Is this thing you want to do now something you were working on a year ago? If not, then why do you think you’ll be working on it a year from now? It’s very hard to get worse at something that you work on every day. It’s slow and painful and every day of that year you’ll probably feel like you aren’t achieving anything but when you look back you’ll probably see that you are better than you were.
And even if you aren’t – does it really matter? It only matters if you think there is an end to it all and at some point you will have arrived and be as good as you ever will be. That’s not my view – and it’s not the view of anyone who does things because they enjoy the process rather than for the result. If you’re doing something that you hope you’re still doing in your eighties – then really no one else’s view makes much of a difference.
What matters is getting on with the work when another day comes around.