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Reading: 50 Pounds of Clay


Or: getting it perfect on the first try, and other impossibilities. Tradecraft gives us lots of cool things to read. This blog about effort and perfectionism is probably one of my favorites. It even quotes Anne Lamott, who, in my opinion, has got writing and living down.

Here’s the gist: There’s a story from Art and Fear about a teacher who grades one half of his class on the quantity of the work produced, and one half on its quality. At the end of the semester, the highest caliber work came from the quantity students, not the quality students.

Quantity over quality yields quality… every single time. Mistakes aren’t just “no big deal”—they are the necessary steps toward success.

I love this distinction. Too often, supervisors and teachers extract apologies for or “forgive” draft-quality work. Too often, failures are taken personally—viewed as an affront or lack of effort. And too often we are expected to “grow out of” mistake-making as we gain mastery of a discipline.

Here’s the thing. Once the mistakes stop, the learning stops. So punishing yourself or others for mistakes, transforming them into something undesirable, promoting a culture of perfection—all of this halts growth.

Placing perfection over effort early on can be a fatal blow. Children who are taught to value the speed and ease of their “natural talent” are less likely to take on more difficult challenges. Children who are taught to value learning as a process are more willing to try problems outside of their comfort zone. Guess which group enjoys long-term success?

In yourself and others, reward effort, quantity, and persistence. Speed and quality will eventually follow—although never perfection. After all, “sucking at something is the first step in being really good at something!”