TEDx Macatawa: The Perfectly Imperfect

A TEDx Talk.

I was asked to give a TEDx Talk.

These talks bring new ideas to the world, or at least ideas that have been overlooked. The last time I had a new idea, it was defeated in a faculty meeting.

Well, it wasn’t exactly a new idea. Actually it was a very old idea, an ancient idea, and one I’ve continued to promote through retirement and onward. So, what new idea could I come up with? I came up with a chair. TED talkers walk around the stage. I walk my dog, or follow as he sniffs,  a rather uncoordinated, random walk. I am quite good at sitting. It’s how I’ve always done my best work.

TEDx and TED Talks are stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. I’m very uncomfortable with stunning, flawless, perfect, excellent. When I taught at a nearby college, people were constantly pursuing excellence. Like Charlie our dog doing his sniffing. “There! Nope…. Maybe over There! Nope.”

I never had any idea what in this or any world Excellence was or looked, sounded, tasted or smelled like. But everyone  seemed to know it was there, somewhere. I knew that it was used in conversation: “Like, ya know, that’s excellllent!”

Really? Excellent? When I asked, I was told it meant “doing or making a thing better than most everyone and everything else.” At what cost? And how do you know when you’ve arrived? Merely by measurement?

Only that can be excellent which can be measured? There is a reason standards have lowered from reaching for wisdom or inspiration to spelling all the words correctly. Reaching for perfect measures is the new black.

Not being much of a fan of it, what could I talk about if I couldn’t talk about excellence? This gnawed my bones for a long time before it came: I would talk unexcellently about other things worth pursuing. Or I chose to state the positive: I would suggest that a thing is worth doing even if you don’t do it well.

In fact, most things worth doing have more important reasons for doing them than doing them well. And so I sat in my chair, promoting The Perfectly Imperfect*

I TEDx Talked about the virtue of not focusing on doing things well, or even doing them well at all.

And my microphone fell off my ear.

And I went 34 seconds past my allotted time.

And my chair squeaked.

*The title came from our daughter, who at age 7 said to me when I hung holiday lights up one side of our front door, across the top, and 1/3 of the way down the other side, “Daddy! Let’s leave them up this way. They are perfectly imperfect.”

4 thoughts on “TEDx Macatawa: The Perfectly Imperfect

  1. Fantastic, Jack. You never lose your magic touch. The TED people got the right guy–perfect or imperfect or a little of! Stephen Hemenway

  2. What a pleasure to hear your talk, Jack. A talk that I can only say Amen to over and over until my mouth ceases to work and some monkish moan of affirmation spills out.

    This is as wise a talk as I’ve ever heard. If we would remember it, try to live it, especially when the siren song of excellence and the thin veneer of the extravagant life of excellence knocks at the door and opens with a crescendo…. we might love each other more, remember to care for the earth beneath our feet, truly savor our next meal or cup of tea. Ah, to be present, to accept who we are and the place we are in, to know it is good enough simply to do, to try, to enjoy that trying, to offer compassion to others and to ourselves.

    Those who wish to damn such an approach to life will not have the joy of living a life like you have shared with so many of us. (Yes, I got a bit angry at a comment someone left. If they only knew that your approach has produced people that are thriving, accomplishing amazing things, but doing so not out of the cliche pursuit of excellence but out of pursuing the deepest elements in a life well lived.)

    Man, I don’t know what cosmic forces or providential powers threw you into my life, but I say a prayer of thanks daily for you.

    I’m shaking my head at how good you are at being you. I bet your dad can’t believe what his kid can do. You had that audience in the palm of your hand, making all of us laugh and tear up and take a moment to consider this other path.

    Hugs and love and peace to you and Julie,

    Todd

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