Embracing Imperfection

   “The first draft of anything is always shit.”

— Ernest Hemingway

On a cool autumn day in 2016, I had my first taste of competitive running.

It was my junior year of college, and I just started at the University of Massachusetts Boston. I joined the cross country team the week before, and this day was my first official practice with the team.

Anyone watching could tell I was the new kid on the team. Although I had always been in good shape, I was noticeably fatter than everyone else on the team, and I ran at a much slower pace.

The reason was that I had never run a competitive race before, and I was now running alongside athletes who had been racing since freshman year of high school.

There was a voice inside my head that told me I shouldn’t be there. It pointed out how everyone had a six pack and could run laps around me, and how inexperienced I was compared to them.

This voice is familiar to me because it’s the same one that tells me I’m not good enough to be a magician. I’ve learned to ignore it and push forward.

For my first official cross country race shortly after, my coach gave me a time to hit. He said that, based on how I performed during practices, this is a time that I could reasonably hit, although I had never run that fast before.

This time, he told me, is what I was racing for. I wasn’t to focus on the other runners, just on hitting this time.

This completely changed my mindset.

Instead of racing against dozens of other runners with 6+ years of experience on me, I was racing against myself. When I finished the race in dead last, I was relieved to hear that I hit my target time; the race was a win for me.

For the next race a week later, I was again competing against my best time, not the other runners. Competing against myself was the goal of all my cross country races, practices, and workouts.

This mindset led to me getting in better shape and actually beating other athletes in races. I never came in first place, but I certainly wasn’t last, and that was a big improvement from the beginning.

This was a great lesson in competing against myself instead of comparing myself to others. If I had told myself I was no good at running when I began (which was true!), I would have never gotten better.

The Fear of Being Imperfect

This fear of being imperfect has kept a lot of people from giving time and attention to hobbies. We all start out as being terrible at something, and it’s only through practice that we can get better.

Social media has only made this issue worst. People make themselves miserable by comparing their works to Instagram influencers who are professionals and probably use a lot of photo editing before posting their pictures.

This leads people to neglect their hobbies and instead watch Netflix or scroll through their newsfeeds. Because of this, we’re missing out on all of the benefits an artistic hobby can give us, whether we’re good at it or not!

The Hemingway quote at the top of this article says it the best. The first draft of ANYTHING will suck, whether it be a book, a painting, a joke, a song, or a magic trick.

That’s okay! You have to suck before you can improve. Even if you never improve, the benefits of practicing an artistic hobby alone are worth the time and effort.

The great thing about practice is that, if you stick with it, you can only improve. If you practice your art even for a few minutes every day, eventually you will get better.

If you ever want to see this statement in action, go watch an open mic. You will see a dozen or so comedians, singers, magicians, etc. try out new material that will probably suck.

These artists may be very good and have years of experience, but their new material --- their first drafts --- are still bad!

Getting in front of an audience at an open mic to test out new material is one of the best ways to improve it. That’s why so many performers risk humiliation for the sake of improving their art!

Conclusion

You aren’t going to be perfect when you write your first poem, or perform in front of a live audience for the first time. No one is, and it’s very unlikely you and I will be the first.

So instead of sweating about how bad your art will be when you first try it, embrace the imperfection and just get started!

Embracing the fact that your first draft will suck is a liberating experience. It gives you the freedom to truly do whatever you want without holding back.

It’s important to remember that the goal of art isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be done for the love of the art. The weird thing is that, if you stick with your art for long enough and truly enjoy doing it, you will move closer to perfection with every minute of practice.

Ryan Lally