Imperfect

So I don’t know much, but there is something I DO know. The “best” doesn’t exist. Neither does “perfection.”

I went to the piano recital of a friend’s daughter. There was a crowd of proud parents wearing dressy clothes. Most were shooting videos with cell phones.

I’ve never witnessed so much piano music in my life. One child performed a piece by Chopin that seemed to last longer than an entire episode of “General Hospital.”

At one point during the recital, there was a sixteen-year-old girl who played something by Franz Liszt. While she played, something happened. She messed up.

One mistake led to another. And another. Then, she quit playing and ran off the stage.

After the performance, I saw her in the lobby. She was crying. She kept saying to her parents, “I wanted it to be perfect.”

Before I left, I shook her hand and told her how wonderful I thought she did. I wanted to say more, but couldn’t. It didn’t seem like any of my business.

But what I wanted to tell her was this:

Maybe her performance wasn’t perfect, but big whoop. Some of us like imperfect things. Some of us like mistakes.

Yes. I know, I know. People are supposed to strive to be the greatest, strongest, longest lasting, fastest, leanest, shiniest, and the best. But I would like to point out: Why?

Besides, who decides what the “best” actually is? And what makes these decisions correct?

I once knew two older men who had a longstanding feud over who had the best college football team. University of Georgia or Auburn University. These two men would get into big arguments, shouting about statistics and wishbone offenses, until they would almost get into a fistfight.

I’ll never forget being an onlooker for one of these legendary arguments. At the time, I was standing beside a young woman who was originally from Minnesota. She was on scholarship at Auburn, studying animal husbandry—or maybe it was poultry psychology.

The girl looked at these two angry men and said, “Hey, why can’t Georgia and Auburn just get over this stupid rivalry and be friends?”

Everyone got quiet. The men hung their heads. And do you know what happened? Those two old men, moved by the realization that all human beings are alike, set fire to the girl’s car.

I’d better end the anecdote right there.

So I don’t know much, but there is something I DO know. The “best” doesn’t exist. Neither does perfection.

Oh sure, everyone gets excited about top performers, exceptional athletes, award winners, or straight-A students. But what about the straight-C students, such as the author of this column? Does anyone get excited about guys like us?

During my youth, the common belief was that A-students hung the moon, and D-students would grow up to have pagan babies. There was no room for C-students.

We were the middle-of-the-roaders. We landed somewhere between students who were total slackers, and those who ate Elmer’s Glue.

Our teachers often told us to “try harder,” or “apply yourself,” or “Did you bring an actual lizard into my classroom, young man?”

And believe me, these teachers meant well. But the thing is, some kids (like me) did worse when we tried harder. It took me nearly thirty years to learn that. It took me even longer to learn that certain laundry detergents will give you the rash of death in your most sensitive regions. Gain with bleach, I’m looking at you.

Not long after I started writing, people began asking me to make speeches. I was nervous about this. At first, I started writing outlines of what I was going to say beforehand. I tried to make my speeches perfect. And do you know what? They sucked.

I would feel terrible about it. Because I wanted to do a good job speaking before, say, the small-town Rotary Club—which consisted of six people and one elderly man in a wheelchair who might have been clinically dead.

But the harder I tried, the worse I did. My turning point came when a nice Rotarian said to me, “You know, you don’t have to try so hard.”

Then he nodded to the man in the wheelchair and said, “I think your speech killed Norm.”

I took the man’s advice. The next place I spoke was a catered luncheon at a seniors club. Half the audience wore hearing aids, the other half was playing with their food and having loud conversations about things like barium enemas.

I took the stage. My only plan was to NOT try so hard. And you’ve probably already guessed what happened. And yes. You guessed right. I sucked again! Only this time, I sucked LESS!

So to the crying girl in the lobby, if you read this, I want you to know that you don’t have to be perfect at anything. In fact, life is more fun when you aren’t.

You have no reason to trust a guy like me. I’m not an expert, I have no credentials, and right now I am suffering from a rash caused by a common laundry detergent.

Either way, I have learned that life is short, and it’s startling how little time we have left. Don’t waste it on perfection. Waste it by being you.

And if any Georgia or Auburn fans are reading this, please don’t set fire to my car.

29 comments

  1. Leslie in NC - August 29, 2019 8:25 am

    You are a good man and a wonderful writer, Sean Dietrich. And you don’t suck!

    Reply
  2. Cathi Russell - August 29, 2019 9:37 am

    You don’t suck & your car is safe. War Eagle!

    Reply
  3. Jim Porter - August 29, 2019 10:40 am

    I got a good belly laugh out of “they set fire to her car!”😂

    Reply
  4. missusmux - August 29, 2019 10:43 am

    Perfect!

    Reply
  5. Amanda - August 29, 2019 10:51 am

    I will never forget the descriptive “poultry psychology”. How you combined this coined term with a column on perfection is pure genius. If you let this go to your head you will probably need to go to a poultry psychologist.
    Thanks for ALL the thought provoking laughs!

    Reply
  6. Joe Patterson - August 29, 2019 11:06 am

    True thanks again

    Reply
  7. Tiffany - August 29, 2019 12:07 pm

    Yes! I am guilty of never feeling “enough” growing up and find myself repeating with my adult expectations. Thank you for the reminder in a morning of angst among my “perfect” babies.
    My reminder:
    Relax Mama- slow down and just be quiet.

    Reply
  8. Sherry - August 29, 2019 12:23 pm

    My beautiful godson is about to start his college career at Auburn….go Tigers?

    Reply
  9. susannecellist - August 29, 2019 12:48 pm

    My morning is always improved by reading your column, Sean. Thank you for wasting your life by being you!

    Reply
  10. Carol (Bobbee) Heidbreder - August 29, 2019 12:52 pm

    As an old retired teacher I think you nailed it here. I delighted in my very bright students of course. They sure made us look good tho I think most would learn inspite of us not because of us. Now the B-/C students were where a good teacher could really be a good teacher. Encourage, point in the right direction, feel their frustrations and anxieties and stay with it. I believe they are the majority of the backbone of our society. They are the teachers, writers, doctors, nurses, researchers, electricians, medical assistants, plumbers, attorneys, mechanics, law enforcement, first responders, veterinarians, accountants, bookkeepers, secretaries, politicians, military, lab technicians, builders and contractors, small business owners, farmers, truck drivers, pilots, scientists, clergy, artists, designers,…..need I go on? I’m convinced of this as I have had decades to watch this, AND, I was one of those and also a military dependent who “passed through” 4 schools my junior year and at least two schools in several previous years. Put us all together and we are an awesome collection citizens! Have seen these C students do wonderful things as I have the top students. Have also seen a valedictorian scoop the big awards at graduation, and be back home by Halloween. You just never can tell, can you?

    Reply
  11. Kat - August 29, 2019 1:01 pm

    💕once again, Thank you Sean, because you see I was that little girl on the stage 50 years ago. I now play piano for myself and I love my imperfect playing 🤗🤗🤗💕

    Reply
  12. Audrey McLane - August 29, 2019 1:09 pm

    I just love your stories. My mom Edna B. Told me about you. I am allergic to the world & Tide free & sensitive ( white bottle) shouldn’t break you out. Have an awesome day 😊

    Reply
  13. Jess - August 29, 2019 1:17 pm

    Sean, you may suck at many things in life, but you’ve got writing down pat. I must admit I laughed out loud at several things in this column. You’ve got a way with words and you’ve got a ton of ardent fans. Have a great day today.

    Reply
  14. Diane Ericsson - August 29, 2019 1:25 pm

    Great story, as always. Here’s some free advice to avoid those nasty rashes. Always use “free & clear” type detergents. Even better, use the all natural ones that are easy to find nowadays. Life is just so much better when you don’t itch anywhere!

    Reply
  15. Edna B. - August 29, 2019 1:36 pm

    Because of allergies, I use Ajax laundry soap so my clothes and sheets don’t itch me. You’re right, there’s really no such thing as perfect. I say just do your best. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  16. Steve - August 29, 2019 1:45 pm

    Auburn Alum, and big football fan, although I’m not suffering an rash – I have suffered “perfection” all my life. It’s a terrible human attribute. It leaves you empty and frustrated because you always fall short and always think you could have done better. You never feel good about your accomplishments no matter how many people tell you it’s great, or that YOU are great. You don’t believe them. To the readers of this, don’t let your children or grandchildren think they have to be perfect. Stop it anyway you can. Maybe Georgia offers a class on how to do this…..if so I’ll put my lighter away. Perfekseion is a deazee (misspellings) that must to be irractikated. Thanks for the reminder. Nobody’s perfect.

    Reply
  17. Linda Moon - August 29, 2019 2:08 pm

    I like imperfect things and imperfect people and guys like you. You called out the pianist, Gain,and the would-be fisticuffers. You might have even killed Norm. If so, he’s in the Heavenlys enjoying some perfection UP THERE, having once lived DOWN HERE just being himself and enjoying his short time in life. I plan on wasting this day with a bunch of imperfect people, and it will be so much fun!!

    Reply
  18. Shelton A. - August 29, 2019 2:21 pm

    Just the right response…here’s to everyone who’s not perfect.

    Reply
  19. MermaidGrammy - August 29, 2019 2:26 pm

    The Georgia and Auburn guys should have just played pinochle. Everyone KNOWS the University of Alabama is the ONLY best! Thank you again for a soul-touching article. Amen

    Reply
  20. Janie F. - August 29, 2019 2:46 pm

    Love this one Sean! I agree, who are these people who decide what is perfect and coming to terms with that has changed my life. I never finished high school, dropped out after 10th grade. Tried night school for a while but dropped out of that too. Got my own place at 16 and went to work. Loved to write but because I never took a writing course and have forgotten all I ever learned about English composition and sentence structure I didn’t write. Till I was 62 or 63 when I started my blog. Now I post a five part story Mon – Fri and my thoughts on life and current events on the weekend. Am I reaching the masses? No! But I have a few loyal readers who look forward to reading the words I write every day. PRICELESS!

    Reply
  21. Andy Gartman - August 29, 2019 2:56 pm

    Your car is safe, but you might want to keep an eye on that truck! Love you, man.
    Your preacher buddy.

    Reply
  22. Dempsey - August 29, 2019 3:57 pm

    I loved your piece. This summer I was in a pickup string band and we called ourselves “The OK String Band.” We said we were starting a movement “Make America OK Again.”

    Reply
  23. Betty F. - August 29, 2019 4:06 pm

    This song made me think of you- https://youtu.be/HyOLrSwUiX0
    Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

    Reply
  24. Chip - August 29, 2019 4:28 pm

    “People are born with different capacities, if they are free they are not equal. If they are equal, they are not free.” A. Solzhenitsyn

    Reply
  25. Kristin in Virginia (a former resident of both Georgia and Alabama) - August 29, 2019 5:57 pm

    I can’t tell you how very much I love this. I mean really, really love it. I love it so much I would marry it if I could.

    Reply
  26. Susan - August 29, 2019 7:43 pm

    As a former teacher, know what excited me? Those students whose “mental maturity” test scores were about the same as a dead fish’s, but they were solid C students. I was more proud of them than the straight A students, and I still remember them today! They were/are my heroes!

    Reply
  27. Mary Ellen Hall - August 30, 2019 5:53 pm

    I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this story Sean!! It brought back a memory that @ the time HORRIFIED ME, but NOW I can HEARTILY LAUGH AT!!! I think I was in 8 th grade & I was STILL playing the Piano (which I HATED!! I had started playing Tennis, & wanted to quit Piano!!!) It was the second recital of the year, & my parents had told me I could quit Piano after this recital, to concentrate on Tennis. This was the BIG RECITAL, the one @ The Women’s Forum with two Baby Grands on Stage!
    W

    Reply
  28. Mary Ellen Hall - August 30, 2019 6:01 pm

    SO SORRY, I ACCIDENTALLY HIT THE SEND TOO SOON!!

    I was waiting for my turn back stage, thinking ONLY OF QUITTING!!! When my time came, I walked on stage, bowed & sat down. When I looked @ the keys, I could NOT REMEMBER my piece-NOTHING!! I sat there for a few minutes, then got up, bowed, & left!! My parents were VERY SUPPORTIVE, my three brothers were HORRIFIED! IT WAS DEFINITELY TIME TO QUIT!!!

    Mary Ellen Hall

    Reply
  29. That's jack - September 4, 2019 3:28 am

    I knowed it, I just knowed it. you envy us B students. We have cleaned more toilets than you have set in, and done a great job of it. Fact is sometimes perfect! So there! LOL
    Good one dude, and that is good advice.
    Sherry & jack back in NC

    Reply

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