One of my all-time favorite authors is Haruki Murakami. His books have this surrealist tone and a consistent interweaving of the conscious & unconscious. My head is always left spinning and wondering as I read a Murakami novel, and I love how these books force me to imagine and make my own connections between scenes and chapters.
Kafka on the Shore is one such Murakami novel that blurs the conscious and unconscious minds. As I sank into the unconscious sections of the book, I found myself applying certain scenes and quotes to my own life. One such quote relates to curiosity, expectations, and perfectionism.
Most people really admire my work ethic and I’ve always been praised for my drive and determination. I’m a naturally curious person, but I’m also a perfectionist. When you combine these two traits, it’s easy to lose balance in life. As I’ve gotten older and experienced more life, I can now see the high cost of perfectionism. I wish somebody had told me this growing up, which is why I’m telling it to you. Sometimes good enough is just that. When we are too strict on ourselves – and strive for the best in every situation, all of the time – we will hold ourselves back from taking the risk to grow. The reality is that life is not always perfect. The first time you try something new, you might very well fail. Fear of screwing up will prevent you from even trying. And if you don’t try, you might never realize your potential. Not to mention – we can find our passion, our calling, what we love – in areas that we are not necessarily the most gifted in. So what if I’m better at tennis than I am at dance. If I find my happy place in dance, then I shouldn’t choose to pursue a different sport just because I might have more natural talent in that area.
In Kafka on the Shore, Murakami writes:
“Adults constantly raise the bar on smart children, precisely because they’re able to handle it. The children get overwhelmed by the tasks in front of them and gradually lose the sort of openness and sense of accomplishment they innately have. When they’re treated like that, children start to crawl inside a shell and keep everything inside. It takes a lot of time and effort to get them to open up again. Kids’ hearts are malleable, but once they gel it’s hard to get them back the way they were.”
I can relate to this quote personally and the fact that I can has greatly influenced my teaching philosophy. You see – we are born naturally curious, with a natural sense of wonder. Watch any kindergarten. They touch everything, they constantly ask why, they run & fall & get back up. They aren’t worried about grades and they aren’t restricted by thoughts of what will look best on their resume. To them, learning is exciting and helps them make sense of the world.
So as I read Murakami’s quote, I wonder how we can preserve that thrill that learning provides as we grow up. I wonder how adults can reduce that pressure or expectation that perfect is better. I wonder how I can help my students find new thrills in the classroom. And I strive to be a better model of an adult living passionately and driven by my heart instead of one always looking to appear polished and perfect.
Because as Murakami says: “A certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect.”
The above post is inspired by our Call Me Ismael Project at Bullis School. I had a chance to record a story this month, and the above is what I contributed.