Learning About Perfection from Steely Dan

Bedtime last night was about half past midnight.  It is rare I am up that late for no reason, but with regularity I attend shows and performances that shorten a night’s quantity of sleep.  Last evening I gave up a few hours of sleep to see Steely Dan in concert, the first time I have ever seen Becker and Fagen perform.  The show was well worth the price of admission and the hours of sleep given up I paid to see the concert.  Further, time with friends at dinner and at the show enriched the night’s experience. 

Steely Dan has always been known for their near-obsessive perfectionism in the studio and similar attention to detail paid to their live performances.  Last night was no exception.  The band was tight, well rehearsed and seemingly near perfect in their execution of the greatest hits journey they took us on.  Somewhere during the 4th or 5th song, a slow to become clear epiphany began to manifest it’s self within.  The focus of my thoughts became clear just after Donald Fagen inadvertently began playing the wrong song on their set list.  After a few bars he stopped, a little embarrassed laughed off the error and jumped right into playing the correct song in sequence.   He seemed to just let it go and there appeared to be no impact what so ever on the rest of the concert.   

My realization was that even an incredible and proficient band that performs with near perfection makes mistakes.  This was a reminder to me that perfection doesn’t exist on Earth and a substantial reminder that as a person I am far from flawless or faultless.  Of course, in a general sense I know that well, yet often hold myself to a standard of near perfection.  This is certainly true when looking in the rear view mirror at my past.  Here and there I find myself thinking about what I should have done and then scolding myself lightly for not having chosen the perfect choice or behavior.  For some reason I sometimes hold myself to a standard that is beyond reach.  Moved a step forward that can easily become a reason not to try or else procrastinate on even trying because I know my actions will be imperfect. 

I found myself wondering why it is usually so easy to find fault with my self.   I settled on the reason being the conniptions and gyrations of my ego.   Coming from the Latin word meaning “I”, the “ego” decides how I see myself distinctly as compared to others and the world in general.  It is the judge and jury that prescribe the self set expectations I have for my self.  It’s not that my self imposed standards are all too high (some are though) that causes unease.  Instead, I realized I sometimes use them as an excuse to not even start things.     

A good example is to lose the 25 pounds I gained since stopping smoking a few years ago.  That is not a simple task.  Yet, it is not the difficulty of weight loss that is the issue.  I have accomplished far tougher things.  It is the getting started and the needed consistency for just a beginning week or so that is elusive.  Why?  My ego has a challenge letting me begin something it is not convinced I can achieve.  The ego’s desire for perfection blocks my beginning.  Same is true for regular exercise.  

Even down to getting some dental work done, my ego plays games with me.  It mumbles to me “you’re middle aged.  You shouldn’t expect your teeth to look great.  Accept your age” and so on.  Why?  The ego does not want me to even begin unless it is certain fairly certain near-perfection is achievable.  To illustrate my point further, there is really nothing wrong with my teeth now.  I have a good pearly white smile without gaps or discoloring.  Rather, I need two implants for back teeth and implants are not always successful.  I avoid being one of those it does not work for by simply putting off even trying.  Yet, the probability an implant will be successful is in the 80-90% range.  Darn good odds, yet my ego wants perfection.  

The clear thought that gathered last night at the concert was simply accomplishing anything is a series of starts and stops, tiny steps of small successes and little failures that when strung together consistently lead to achievement.  In regards to matters outside myself like work, I don’t seem to have an issue getting things done; even knowing they will not be perfect.  Professionally I know accomplishment comes from sorting out what needs to be done, creating a plan to achieve it, implementing the plan and amending is as needed until the achievement is made.  And if the plan becomes unworkable:  stop, reassess, find new direction and begin again. 

The little beam of thought last evening readied me teach my ego this morning.  On line I found the word “perfection” derives from “perficio” and means “to finish or to bring to an end”.  So “perfect” literally means “finished”.  Aristotle wrote “perfect” meant “complete” or “nothing to add or subtract”.  How interesting that a random thought at a great concert would cause me to see perfection as simply finishing what is begun and NOT about completion without flaws.  

No excuses, its time to lose weight and get in shape.  I don’t have to be perfect; I just have to finish what I start regardless of the precise outcome.  I can do that.  

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never achieve it.  Salvador Dali

One thought on “Learning About Perfection from Steely Dan

  1. I had to chuckle when I read this.. you were talking to me about the weight and dental stuff.. Oh how funny. Yes, perfection is not necessary at all… We live and learn from our mistakes. 🙂

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