“I DID AND THEY DID NOT.”

This is the story of the HMS Pfiffengraff.  In 1919 the Pfiffengraff sailed from England, along the Western European coast, toward Morocco.  Two thirds of the way into the journey a boiling storm blew across the ship’s route.  Evasive maneuvers were taken, extraneous cargo was tossed overboard in an attempt to lighten the ship and outrace the storm clouds but soon the Pfiffengraff was being tossed about like so much driftwood.  And driftwood she would soon become. Within a few hours the ship had been overturned and started to sink below the waves as her crew and civilian passengers swam toward the few available lifeboats.  On one of these boats six terrified souls were able to climb aboard:  a doctor, a technician, an illustrator, a cook, a sailor and a blacksmilth.

Once they had caught their breath the six survivors started to investigate their craft under the supervision of the sailor, checking for leaks and hoping that it was sea worthy.  They were beyond sight of the shore and because of the storm had lost their bearings.  Very quickly the men realized that there were many problems with their boat and they regrouped and began discussing what was wrong.

“Listen, we’ve made it aboard, but I’m not sure how long we’ll survive out here. We’ve got possible sunburns, seasickness, dehydration and who knows what sorts of infectious diseases to deal with and the medical kit we’ve been issued is sorely lacking,” the doctor reported to the group.

“That’s if we even make it through the night!” exclaimed the technician, “This ship has to be at least 20 years old, based on a design even older than that!”

“That’s nothing!” cried the cook, “There is no food on board!”

“That may be the case,” said the doctor, “But what if one of us gets stabbed? That’s a more immediate problem. There is no gauze in the medical kit! The poor bloke would bleed to death!”

“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear,” interjected the technician, “And I don’t expect you to understand, as this isn’t your field and I’m sure you haven’t read the latest shipbuilding journals, but no one would ever build a ship like this today. It’s not going to be able to withstand any of the stresses of sea travel, not to mention the long term effects of salt damage from the water. This is an absolutely archaic design! It’s barely even a ship!”

“Not even hard tack or salted beef!” hollered the cook.

“Gentlemen, I hear your concerns,” said the sailor, “But we’ve bigger problems. None of you have any experience sailing, you’re all civilians. I’m the only sailor here and I can’t possibly manage with a crew of none!”

“Exactly! What if you get sick? I won’t be able to do a thing for you!” added the doctor.

“NO FOOD!” the cook yelled.

“I wouldn’t wish this ship on my worst enemy!” the technician declared.

“And, it’s ugly as hell!” the illustrator piped up.

“I vote we abandon ship. It’s the only sensible thing to do!” the doctor said gravely.

“I fear you may be right,” agreed the technician.

“At least there are things to eat in the ocean,” said the cook.

“And we won’t have to look at this monstrosity!” cried the illustrator.

“Maybe there are other sailors still swimming about,” mused the sailor.

And with that the five men tossed themselves over the sides of the barely sea-worthy vessel, swam about for a few hours, became more and more exhausted and disoriented and eventually all drowned.

Meanwhile, the blacksmith sat in the boat waiting for the sky to clear so that he could attempt to figure where he was. As he was waiting for the weather to improve he patiently sorted through what supplies there were, finally pulling some suture out of the medical kit and tying it to some bits of colored cloth, hoping to use it as line and lure and possibly catch a fish. Next he counted the waterskins on board and began calculating out how he would ration the water.  Luckily he never had to test how well his rationing system would work because within three days he was able to row to shore.

When the blacksmith told his story to the men who helped pull the boat ashore they reacted with disbelief. “But you’re ablacksmith!” they cried, “You don’t know a damn thing about sailing or the ocean or fishing or survival. How is it that you lived while so many other, more educated and experienced men died?”

“Well,” the blacksmith said, “I did the first thing first. The ship was sinking, so i got onto something that wasn’t. Then we were lost so i looked to the sky. I knew I’d need food so I figured a way to get it. I had to make the water last so I came up with a plan.”

“But what if there was another storm?” asked one of the men.

“Or what if, like the doctor said, you got sick?” asked another.

“Or what if…”

“Well,” the blacksmith calmly interrupted the flow of questions, “I did the first thing first, like I said. And then the next thing. And then the next. And if a next thing happened, I’d deal with that when it happened.”

The men stood around looking confused until finally one cleared his throat and said, “Ok, but I still don’t understand. You don’t know how to navigate by the sky. And you don’t know how to fish. And how could you ration the water, you had no idea how long you’d be out there? So…so…so how could you possibly do these things you had no idea how to do?”

“Well,” the blacksmith calmly explained, “Like I said, I just did the first thing first. It doesn’t matter if I know how to or not. It just matters that I did. All those men that jumped overboard knew so much more than me. But I did and they didnot.”

Hi, my name is Jack and this is my first blog entry!  I’m equally excited and nervous about this new project.  I’ve got a message that I want to broadcast to as many people as possible, as clearly as possible.  In an effort to work on the clarity of my message I started this blog so that I can push myself to write on a regular basis.  Having a public blog helps me be accountable to a writing schedule (once a week for now, updated every Monday).  It also pushes me to develop my writing into something that communicates my message in a clear way that readers can understand.

What is my message?  It’s going to take me some time and some writing to be able to communicate it in the best way possible, so please be patient.  For now iIll say that the story above was one way that I’m trying to express it.  I’ll admit that story is pretty heavy-handed, but the analogy I based it on came to me the other day and I wanted to work with it as soon as I could.  No, there never was an HMS Pfiffengraff (did the name give it away?), and 5 people would probably not throw themselves overboard instead of staying safe on a life boat, whether or not it met their standards.  However, we’ve all done something similar, many times in our lives.

How many projects have I not started, or abandoned, because I was afraid the results wouldn’t be “good enough?”  How about you? Ever not started in on something that you really wanted because you didn’t know enough or weren’t an expert or you didn’t have the right tools or right group of people to work with or it was going to be ugly as hell? Maybe you didn’t apply for the job you wanted because you thought the other applicants might know more than you.  Or you decided not to start an art project because you didn’t have all of the “right” materials.  Or even though you want to start working out and getting stronger you don’t have a gym membership, or you’re clumsy or you “probably wouldn’t be good at it.”  Maybe you just shrugged it off and said, “I can’t help it, I’m a perfectionist.”

The problem with perfectionism is that nothing is ever good enough.

That means you can never try anything new, you can’t make a mistake and learn from it and you absolutely can’t enjoy the successes you do have because they aren’t “perfect.”  I’m gonna call bullshit on that system.  Perfectionism basically ensures that you never get to try anything new, grow or change.  It’s not helping you, it’s not “pushing you to improve,” it’s stunting your growth and it’s time to vote it off the island.

This blog is anti-perfectionism.  No matter what it’s going to get updated regularly.  Some posts might be shorter than others. Some might be really crappy.  Doesn’t matter, still going to do it.  I’m only going to become a better writer by writing. And I’m only going to become better at communicating my message by practicing communicating it.

These are my absolute favorite anti-perfect quotes:

“Start anywhere.” —John Cage

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” —Arthur Ashe

That’s where the name of this blog, and my personal mantra for the last four years, comes from:  the idea that you start with what you have and then build on it.  No matter what you’re starting with, whether it’s brand new fancy parts or the ruins of the thing that came before, if you want to build a cathedral you start with one brick.  And each action, each day, layered on top of the last one, is what creates progress.  Even if some of those actions are less than perfect, or done by someone who isn’t an expert, or turn out ugly as hell.

(your soundtrack for this entry)

What do you want more than anything in the world?  And what is holding you back from reaching that goal?  What if, when contemplating your dream, instead of thinking of all the great chasms that separate you from obtaining it you thought of just one small action you could take today that would get you closer?  What immediately leaps to the front of your mind?  Does a voice inside of you quickly say, “well, you can’t do that because of ______?”  Well then, what’s the action before that action?  What’s the first thing you can do first?

If you are dedicated to action then success is a possibility.  If you are dedicated to only seeing what you lack then failure is a guarantee.  I can, with almost 100% certainty, say that whatever it is that you want more than anything in the world, you are not the expert in that thing.  In fact, you are most likely very far from being an expert in that thing.  It doesn’t matter.  All that separates you from becoming like those experts is experience.  Experience is gained through action.  To get closer to the thing you want you must take action.  It all comes down to action.

Remember the blacksmith:  “I just did the first thing first. It doesn’t matter if I know how to or not. it just matters that i did. all those men that jumped overboard knew so much more than me. but I did and they did not.”

Elias Gross