A mentor of mine named Bob Jenkins who goes by the handle Bob the Teacher (and loves acronyms) recently wrote a book called TARL, for “Take Action, Revise Later.” It’s the “Just Do It’ of business and creative work. The idea is that imperfect action has power, while perfectionism is just a way of procrastinating or hiding out.
In a culture where we’re told to “always do your best”, where failure and coming in second is scorned, and with many of us DaVinci types being artists who are always tweaking and refining as part of our process, just going with something we know could be better goes against all our conditioning. So why would you want to risk launching that product, showing that painting or submitting that book proposal that still “isn’t quite ready?”
There’s a famous expression, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Well, what if you viewed all feedback, positive or negative, as just that — feedback? Then there is no failure, only learning — learning how to improve, or learning what projects are and are not worth your time. That’s the essence of TARL. You can still make it perfect. Just recognize that perfection takes trial and error.
Writers know that they have to allow themselves to do a bad first draft, just so they can have something real to work on. “Writing is rewriting,” the saying goes. Or, as one of my writing mentors says, “Bad is the road to good.”
The computer software industry gets it…that’s why there’s a version 2.0, 3.0 and so on. If everyone delayed release of any product until they had perfected version 7.0, we’d all still be using wax tablets and abacuses. I’d rather have a buggy system that exists than a perfect one that doesn’t. Bugs can be fixed. Dead air and promises cannot.
Reasons to ditch your perfectionism and fear, and to TARL instead:
You can only learn so much in your ivory tower. Until you get some real world feedback, you’re creating in a fool’s paradise. You really can’t ever make it perfect in a vacuum. Get your work out there when you can see how it really works, and learn how to make it better.
Action creates energy, and vice versa. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to head to the sofa for Haagen-Dazs and re-runs of Seinfeld. Doing anything gives you a burst of momentum that feels good and can lead to more action and new ideas.
Action kills fear. Doing something — and realizing you’ve survived! — delves a serious wound to that monster fear under the bed. Think how liberated you’ll feel when you prove to yourself you can just go out with something that isn’t perfect yet. Then the next time, you may still be scared, but you’ll have a touchstone of having made it thorugh before. It won’t be quite as hard the more you do it.
The people you are hoping to help or enlighten are waiting. You’re doing them no good with your dithering. Only you can do what only you can do. Do your fans, customers and the rest of the world a favor and give them something now. Chances are it will be more than good enough. If not, there’s always the second edition or Version 2.0.
- Pick one project you’ve been “working on” or “revising” for a long time.
- Make a plan to go public with it and put the date on your calendar. Whatever state it’s in that day, it goes.
- Treat it as a learning experience and get curious as to what will happen.
- Decide how you will gather and measure feedback — ask friends to give a critique, do an survey, institute analytics to measure clicks and sales. How will you know what’s working and what isn’t?
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