The Enemy of Better

I have a teacher friend who recently started making a small portion of her assignments impossible to get a hundred percent on. The best they can get is a 95%.

The point is to demonstrate that their best work still has room for improvement. That even if you did everything technically correct, it’s not 100% perfect.

In discussing this on social media, several of her adult (read: not in school) friends got so upset even thinking about not having the option to get 100%, that she actually ended up taking it down–in order to, as I understand it, avoid causing actual panic attacks.

Because yes, there is actually a correlation between perfectionism and anxiety.

Here‘s one of the many articles that demonstrate this. I’ll explain as best as I can: people’s brains are getting wired (wired, like they can’t just stop thinking this way) to understand that if a task can be perfect (a 100%), then by that logic everything else is imperfect. If there is one correct answer, then everything else is simply wrong or insufficient. 100% is not only the goal, it is the only option.

So yeah. Good recipe for anxiety.

“Don’t go with your best idea, go with your first idea. Your best idea will come later.”

Actors have to come up with rapid-fire ideas , all the time. How should they use their voice, body, timing, expressions, etc., to create a dynamic character? Younger actors, or actors in a nerve-wracking environment, will often seize up when asked to come up with an idea of any kind because they’re afraid to be wrong.

*squint*

What do you mean, wrong? It’s an idea. It’s not wrong.

All my theatre students get peppered with “Don’t go with your best idea, go with your first idea,” over and over. Every time they freeze, it’s the same mantra. Because best ideas never come from sitting around, wracking our brains to find that one right thing.

Best ideas come from bad ideas.

I want their bad ideas. I want to see them try out something that does not, in any way, play out as a usable idea. I also want to see them try ideas that might seem dumb at first but they get worked until they’re actually quite brilliant.

Art-making is way more complicated than mere achievement or failure. Yes, there’s good and bad art (don’t ask me to define that…also way too complicated). But there is no 100%. No one, correct, answer.

So I tell them: go with your first idea. Your best idea will come later.

It’s why we teach improvisation so much. By definition, there is no predetermined way to do improvisation. There are rules, guidelines, accepted practices…good and bad improv. But the whole point is the practice. The constant generation of ideas. And it works! Actors develop the ability to try out their first (often not-so-great) ideas, then work them or discard them and on to the next. They learn the peace of art-making as a never-completed process, and not a test that can be perfected.

So, to all those lovely, anxious, creative people:

You delightful sunbeam of swirly, creative bliss…you’re going to have a lot of garbage ideas. And you’re going to have a lot of garbage art. I will too. Our best ideas are probably under a glorious pile of creative trash.

The more you practice coming up with ideas and trying them out, the better you get at it.

I beg of you, do not let anyone tell you that you got 100% on your art-making. There is no such thing. And I would suggest this concept goes beyond art-making, as well.

The saying is, “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

Really, perfect is the enemy of better.

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *