One Step to Perfection
There is more to life than increasing its speed. — Mahatma K. Gandhi
Every year there is a sunny Saturday in early June when I give myself the whole day to clean my car. I open all the doors, put on some music, throw a beer in the cup holder and go to town.
I relax and get in there deep. Unaware of the spectacle of my feet flailing out the windows and doors as a series of increasingly contorted postures transpires, I pursue every last hair and coffee stain.
The dashboard shines in the sun and every knob and button gets my full attention. Light is shone on the deepest cracks in the seats and the smell of Windex fills the air. Should I really bother with dirt on the inner door frame? Of course.
The results never fails to satisfy. Even though I never knew there were smudges on the back window, it is so much better when they are gone. They were clearly affecting my car’s performance because now she runs oh so smoothly.
I probably didn’t need to clean out every air vent or take the knobs off the radio, and I certainly didn’t need to scrub under the seat where no one will ever see, but it is not worth the risk.
Where do you draw the line before you don’t get that ‘ahhh’ feeling of perfection?
I recently read an anecdote in an essay by Leo Tolsty about Russian artist Karl Bryullov (or The Great Karl to his friends),
“Bryullov one day corrected a pupil’s study. The pupil, having glanced at the altered drawing, exclaimed, ‘Why, you only touched it a tiny bit, but it is quite another thing.’ Bryullov replied, ‘Art begins where the tiny bit begins.’”
I feel passionately that my early June car clean is a work of art worthy of Greg the Great.
Perfection is built out of tiny bits.
I actually learned this lesson about the tiny things while working with my uncle helping him clean and refinish his first house. As we went through his house repairing, sanding, scrubbing and painting, we began to notice the impact of the accumulation of tiny actions.
It became a theme and a goal. We realized that we didn’t need to gut the place and rebuild it to have a huge impact. We just patiently went bit by bit and the result was amazing.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by big projects, ideas and problems, and it is completely unnecessary. It is counterproductive.
There is an extraordinary peace in knowing where you are going and then just losing yourself in the small steps it takes to get there. One step always leads to another step and eventually you look up and you are there.
It is moving in tune with the universe. It is how the world was built.
Tolsky was using the Bryullov anecdote to argue that a murderer is not made when a person pulls a trigger, they a born from the millions of things that lead a person to that time and place.
In the same way, poverty and environmental degradation are monsters that have grown from millions of actions, and can be undone in the same way.
Every smile, every conscious purchase, every piece of waste reduced brings us closer to a perfect world and to better lives for us and our children.
This may seem like a trite and tiny observation for an article that promises perfection, but it is only when trite and tiny things are realized as the path to perfection that we can begin the journey.
Look out your window. Take in the beauty of nature. Enjoy a cup of tea. Crank up the radio. And do something tiny.
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