That is the question so many of us ask ourselves. And others.
Why is external validation so important?
And how can we know when we’re good enough?
In their book, Art & Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland share the story of a ceramics class.
The teacher divided the class into two groups.
One group was to be graded by the quantity of their work. Their grade was to be determined by the weight of all the pots they submitted. The more pots, the greater the weight, the better their grade.
The other group was to be graded on the quality of one pot. Which meant the one they submitted had to be perfect.
You might be able to guess what happened.
The quality of pots submitted by the “quantity” group exceeded that of the “quality” group.
Because the quantity group learned from their mistakes, made adjustments and kept improving their output, while the quality group “sat theorizing about perfection,” rather than doing the work.
Since reading this vignette years ago, it continues to feed me and my creative work.
Harvard Business Review published a blog post by Heidi Grant Halvorson in February 2011 titled, “Nine Things Successful People Do Differently”. It remains one of the more popular posts on their blog.
One of the things she cited was a “focus on getting better, rather than being good.”
These two ideas fit very nicely together.
The more pots you make, the better your pots will get. And if you focus on getting better, you will eventually be not only good enough, but among the best at your craft.
But, despite what it appears, this isn’t about being “the best”. Or being “successful”.
Both are very distracting ideas. Like being “good enough,” they are born out of a desire for external validation.
My maternal grandfather was a master gardener. His tomatoes exploded in your mouth. My grandmother would can his tomatoes so we could make homemade vegetable soup throughout the winter.
Not many outside our family new my Pop had perfected his tomatoes over years of trial and error. Which meant just a few of us (in a world approaching seven billion people) got to experience and celebrate them.
Pop’s joy was in the craft of growing tomatoes each year. And in seeing if each year’s patience and practice yielded a delightful crop.
He knew. Even when the tomatoes tasted incredible, he knew if they fell short of his discerning tastes.
Like my Pop, my joy lies in my craft and the challenge it brings me.
It’s what gets me out of bed.
It’s what keeps me from going to bed.
It feeds me.
And in feeding me, I’m able to feed the heads and hearts of a few others.
More than I ever expected, actually.
But the reality is this: I’m not good enough. Never will be.
My creative work will never be good enough either.
I always see ways I (and my work) can get better.
Because I deeply care about it.
And that is good enough for me.
I hope your creative work is good enough for you, as well.
Let it spill over for others.
Keitharsis is a blog for creative writers and artists. It seeks to help you find fresh perspectives and inspiration for doing your work. New essays are published each Tuesday and Thursday. A creative exercise is published each Wednesday.