The notion that “practice makes perfect” has long been the motto of successful people everywhere. But is practice the key to success? Is perfection even attainable? What does it mean to be perfect???
Perfection, complete with its perfect ten letter composition, is a heavy word. It bears a lot of weight and there is truly no other word like it.
It is also a popular topic of debate. While some speculate that it is not even possible for anything to be perfect and that humans can only come close to obtaining perfection, I believe that perfection is actually subjective and that people have to define perfection for themselves.
My perspective on perfection differs in different aspects of my life, as it does for most. Generally, I tend to define perfection as doing my best to obtain a goal or dream. This definition is still fairly ambiguous, and maybe that’s the beauty of it.
I first questioned the widely accepted lifestyle of “practice makes perfect” during my freshman year of high school. After almost a year of daily rehearsals (each consisting of at least two hours of practice a day), I became obsessed with the way I sounded. I had always heard great musicians slurring rhythms on the streets, on YouTube, in concert, but I had never myself been able to play music of that difficulty and sound even okay doing it. I loved the quick dance of my fingers and the way they slid past strings of notes and the swiftness of my air. I practiced for hours and hours on end, exerting every last ounce of energy into playing as fast and dynamically as I could. I thought I sounded good, maybe even great. Meanwhile, I became completely blind to my faults and I started to leave out musical detail and precision.
My clarinet teacher, however, was not impressed. That day, she told me something that would forever be ingrained in my heart. After a painful phrase and a half of my playing, she stopped me and asked if I had practiced. Obviously, I took pride in my dedication and hours of practice. She told me that I was in fact practicing the wrong way and that I reaped no benefit continuing to practice in this manner. She even went as far as to say that practicing incorrectly and obsessively damaged the quality of my playing. This is when she changed my entire perspective on everything and anything. “Only perfect practice makes perfect,” she said.
These words resonated with me, and continue to influence my lifestyle. While I do not necessarily agree wholeheartedly with her statement, I learned a valuable lesson that day: that working hard can not give you what you want and that it is better to work smart than hard. (I wrote more about this in my last post. Check it out here.) This lesson has guided me through a lot. Therefore, I owe a lot of my successes to my former clarinet teacher’s wise words.
Years later I found out that she hadn’t in fact come up with this idea that changed my life but instead she had loosely quoted Vince Lombardi. I also found out that many of her philosophical lessons had been derived or copied from famous intellectuals and pop culture icons. Nevertheless, my clarinet teacher, with these few words, managed to dig me out of the shadows of innocence and naivete to finally expose me to the “real world” and how it operates by exemplifying the difficulty of achieving perfection.
Life isn’t easy and practice doesn’t make perfect. “Perfect” practice—practice that is carefully directed in the right way— can help you succeed. Ultimately however, perfection is not achieved through a formula. There is truly no definitive answer or pathway to success or perfection.
Ultimately, as frustrating as it is to unearth new realities, it is what keeps life going and curiosity that drive the search for the unknown. That is exactly what I love about the process, about life.
I shall now conclude with a quote from one of the greatest philosophers known to man.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson