Chapter 80: Perfectionism and the Other Bank

Throughout your childhood you have many defining experiences that stick with you for the rest of your life. It could have been the one time you were in a car accident, or the first time your mom caught you stealing from the candy bins at the grocery store. It doesn’t even have to be big, it could just be a sense of awe when you see an airplane or being scared of clowns.

Whenever I think of perfectionism, I think of trying to cross a stream.

I was brought up with a healthy love of the outdoors. My family has canoed, camped and climbed around most of the US, and the most beautiful areas in nature to me are areas where water meets rock. Canyons, jagged islands, alpine lakes and waterfalls all just do it for me. I can get by on rock or water alone, but the combination is the icing on the cake.

If you’re a parent and you want to let your kid fall in love with the outdoors, let them play in a stream. You can skip stones, swim in the deep sections, build little dams, check out waterfalls. It’s great. For me, the best part, the absolute best part of hanging around streams was trying to reach the other bank.

Take a wide shallow stream and litter it with boulders and little rocks, and then try to cross it without getting your feet wet. It’s like all the games you play in your living room jumping from piece of furniture to piece of furniture, except this time instead of lava you just have to worry about spending an hour drying out your socks. The challenge is still there.

As you get a little older the streams necessarily get wider and deeper. Your legs get longer and your wits somewhat sharper, and you get really good at figuring out what you’d need to do to cross a given stream. Some streams require jumping, others careful balance, some even a little acrobatics with the help of a low hanging branch.

The problem is that while you can always figure out how to cross them, you just can’t always actually cross them. Someone else might be able to do a jump onto that rock without losing balance, but I couldn’t (and didn’t). Someone else might be able to not fall over when they hit a rock that’s Not Quite As Steady As It Looks. Someone else might be able to do it, but not me. Not with these shoes.

For the rest of my life, that will be what I think of when I think about perfection. If you knew what rocks were solid and how good the traction was, and you ran as fast as you could and made all the right moves, you could make it.

It’s one thing to admit you can’t do something when you didn’t know how to do it in the first place. It’s something else entirely when you knew exactly what to do.

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