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Why perfect is an illusion

Posted in the following categories: Creativity, Personal Development

I can’t say exactly when my love affair with Bon Jovi began.

When I was growing up, some mysterious force led me to spend my allowance on a cassette tape of Slippery When Wet—the 1986 album that features many of Bon Jovi’s best-known songs. Since then, “Livin’ on a Prayer” has played at every happy moment of my life.

I’ll be the first to admit: It’s not perfection that makes me cherish Bon Jovi. It’s the memory attached to their songs. I realize many of the band’s songs—particularly from their recent records—aren’t great.

Apparently, Jon Bon Jovi himself agrees. In this clip about the band’s 2009 album, The Circle, he says: “There are a lot of songs on this record that I don’t think hold up, to be honest with you. There are several on this record that I don’t think are very good.”

In an age of filters and curated portrayals, this comes across as a shocking admission. But it shouldn’t. If you want to learn and grow, you must acknowledge your flops, instead of sweeping them under the rug or making a flop look like a success.

Gloss reflects more than it reveals. The people you admire fail repeatedly.

Shakespeare is known for a small number of his classics. But he actually wrote 37 plays and 154 sonnets, many of which have been “consistently slammed for unpolished prose and incomplete plot and character development.”

Pablo Picasso produced 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, and 12,000 drawings—only a fraction of which are noteworthy.

Just a handful of Einstein’s hundreds of publications had real impact.

Tom Hanks, one of my all-time favorite actors, admits, “I’ve made an awful lot of movies that didn’t make any sense.”

Babe Ruth was the home run king. He was also the strikeout king.

But when we judge the greatness of these individuals, we don’t focus on their troughs. We focus on the peaks. We remember Hamlet, not The Two Noble Kinsmen. We remember Apollo 13, not The Man with One Red Shoe. We remember “Livin’ on a Prayer”, not “Live Before You Die.”

Half of my articles are below average. Some of them make me cringe. Even though I’m tempted to delete them, I keep them around to remind myself that I’m a work-in-progress. Part of what keeps me going is the uncertainty of my work—not knowing whether an idea will resonate or whether a sentence will strike a chord.

When Jon Bon Jovi was compiling Slippery When Wet, one song didn’t quite fit in with the rest. He came close to cutting it from the album, until a band member convinced him otherwise. That song, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, would become the band’s signature song, topping the charts across the globe.

Creators are poor judges of their own work. You can’t figure out what will resonate until you try.

And perfect? That’s just an illusion.

People will remember you—not for your polished prose—but for the feeling, the memory, or the breakthrough you create in them.

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