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The art of incompletion

A perfectionist’s nightmare, but sometimes learning is done within the imperfect

I am a walking contradiction in the worst way possible. I am a diehard perfectionist, meticulous and unbending — but I am also equally as terrible at seeing things to completion. My drawers are flooded with notebooks of unfinished stories, my floors littered with half-done art projects. I have spent more money on the materials and foundations of an endeavor than I’ve spent actual time on one, which is highly unfortunate for both my perfectionist sense of completeness and my bank account.

I swear — I have gotten better. As I’ve gotten older, in college especially, I’ve realized that leaving loose ends can only lead to my gradual descent into utter chaos. Order, I’ve found, is the only way for me to effectively maintain a sense of control over my life without spiraling into that aforementioned chaotic realm of anxiety, disorganization and stress.  

Even with that, however, the one thing I can’t shake about my shortcomings is the fact that it is completely, entirely genetic. It has to be — my father is the exact same way. Most people, when discussing genetics, can say they have their mom’s eyes, or their dad’s nose or their grandma’s cheekbones. I, on the other hand, have a distinct combination of my parents’ features so that I simultaneously look like both of them and neither of them. Instead, I say that I picked up my mother’s kindheartedness, stubbornness and love of others. Then, I say I picked up my father’s hard-working attitude, an additional level of stubbornness and his short attention span in bouncing from project to project.

My mom would say I’m “my father’s daughter” — but my bedroom floor’s collection of incomplete, modest artistic ventures have nothing on our house of unfinished projects. Half-painted stairwells, an attempt at replacing our carpeted stairs with hardwood, the beginnings of a small business which we’re still saving up for — the list goes on. I think it’s important for me to say here that I don’t mean to call this trend of incompleteness my father and I share an inconvenience or something that causes us to have a contentious relationship. Instead, I’d like to emphasize the importance of my home as a work in progress.

Every unfinished project tells an individual’s story. My home’s ultimately abandoned stairs project tells the story of my father teaching me about home renovation for the first time. The beginnings of our small family business displays my father’s passion and entrepreneurial spirit. Half-painted stairwells, in all honesty, can be attributed to a thrown-out back in response to years of strain and growing old — though don’t tell him I said that. All of these unfinished projects create one cohesive story of my father’s character and interests, albeit shown in an unconventional way — and each one of these just further proves their stories are continuous and never-ending.

That was important for me to realize, the whole work-in-progress storyline and the fact that stories are perpetual. It drove me absolutely insane growing up that my brain was somehow not programmed to finish most things I started. I would get caught up in details, in making things perfect so that I would finish them, only to get bored and naturally drop the project. Eventually, I realized joy and learning what it means to live fully was within the process, not necessarily always the finished product. I’ve found myself more truly and genuinely by pouring myself into endeavors oftentimes left incomplete than those that are short-lived and of less pertinence to me, but nonetheless completed. 

To my fellow perfectionists out there — if you don’t finish something, that doesn’t mean you are a failure or any less of a person or worker. Do yourself a favor and look at the journey. There’s much to find there that I guarantee you’re overlooking. Piece together that story — your story — and remember that you too are a work in progress that doesn’t need to be finished imminently. Take your time and give yourself some grace — sometimes imperfection isn’t that bad.

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