How I’ve come to terms with being a hasty person

I envied my middle school ceramics classmates as they constructed flawless tea candle holders and Christmas-tree shaped coasters. Their projects were carefully put together, whereas I was hasty and ended up with jagged sculptures covered in fibers and dried clay particles.

That hastiness in which I complete my personal projects has plagued the work I have done on my motorcycles and the furniture I have restored. It can be problematic for folks like me—us serial project-taker-uppers. I’ve considered it a flaw of mine for years.

It’s the reason why my Honda CM400 still doesn’t idle right, or the hairpin legs on my desk are crude. I don’t get caught up in the details, and my projects are never quite like I pictured them in my head. Rather than strategically gauging the size, proximity and composition of the proverbial stepping stone ahead of me, I am tearing forward through the weeds—through the muck and the dark out of a persistent nagging to reach my arrival.

But I’m convinced had I quit all production to agonize over every square inch of my motorcycle, I would have never got it running. If I would have refused to build my desk until I found the perfect hardware, I would still be sitting on the ground.

I’m constantly learning that the arrivals I’m hunting down—the distant specks of light on the horizon—are never what I originally hope for, and there is little that perfectionism could have done to solve it. I am always going to find dried crud on the bottom of my bike’s motor, or realize that I had actually been happy all along.

Sometimes we have to be okay with the ugliness of our work when we see it up-close. After all, the things we cherish most in life are leaky, shoddy and dysfunctional. That’s one of many reasons why I married my wife: she balances out my hastiness, and reminds me to stop and savor the good stuff that makes up each day.

For those who can never seem to tear your eyes from the horizon, I wouldn’t tell you to stop for a minute. Rather, surround yourself with people who ground you, and keep thrashing through that muck and night. It’s where we learn the most—us horizon hunters.

2 thoughts on “How I’ve come to terms with being a hasty person

  1. This is good, Gavin. I admire your hastiness and your willingness to get on with the work instead of aiming for perfection. This excerpt from David Bayles and Ted Orland’s book, “Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”, should offer you encouragement. Keep making and finishing imperfect things, for this is the path of the true artist.

    From their book:

    “The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

    1. It’s funny how lessons about perfectionism so easily carry over from lessons taught in ceramics and clay building. I would imagine the people in the quantity group found that experience and failure teach with a level of tangibility that conceptual learning never will. Getting your hands dirty and bruising your knuckles forces learning.

      Great excerpt. Thanks as always for contributing to the conversation.

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