Thursday, October 20, 2005

If It Ain't Broke, How Do You Fix It? On Passion, Purpose, and Pursuing Perfection

Lately I’ve been thinking about the source of one’s passion.

I talked with a friend recently who told me they’re struggling to find a career they’re passionate about. He made the jump to say such passion, and such a career, would likely be linked with him finding purpose. Passion stems from purpose, which is of course, the point … (presuming we are to persist in propagating this pulsing pattern of pedantic puerile puffery).

I know, for example, I have a passion for creative expression. I am an obsessive when in the throes of an interesting project, whether big or small. Whether it’s a CD, a show, or jokes and jokes and jokes.

I do feel I’m obsessed with blogging right now.

I see this whole world I have ignored for so long, and *he says blushing* I do have a little fire burning. I am writing with purpose. And I wish each post could be perfect.

And so now I’m thinking passion and purpose are also directly related to the pursuit of perfection. When we are passionate, whether it’s for a lover, a job, or a blog, we feel like we are on the trail of something. Something big. And I think that something is perfection.

Which is why we invariably lose some of that passion over time. We find out, yet again, perfection is not at the end of this road.

(but more on this later)

Since some people say I’m smart, and everyone says I’m crazy, and nobody says I’m your typical cookie-cutter Negro, I’ve thought a lot about the origins of my sensibility. Which inevitably leads to thoughts about family.

Maybe the dichotomy of nature and nurture is an illusion. When you think about it, everything could be all wrapped up into one big parent package. There are the genes your parents gave you. And then there’s whether or not your parents were around to buy you jeans.

More or less, that is the long and short of all the nature and nurture business.

And so maybe all that passion and purpose and perfection we seek is rooted in family. Who raised you, and how did they do it?

By most accounts, I grew up in an abnormal environment.

My parents were married and had me just before they could legally drink. And they were divorced and in a custody battle soon after they could legally drink. My mother originally had custody, but gave me up when I was five. My only contact with her after that parting were three kidnappings, twice off the street, once out the classroom.

My father during the formative years was a world-traveling musician. He wasn’t around consistently until I was about ready to head off to boarding school.

To make that long story short (and this short story longer), I got a lot of counseling as a child. And over the years I’ve had a lot of people raise their eyebrows when hearing about my childhood. Which means, I guess, that it was imperfect. But I think that imperfection, as with many other “passionate but tortured artist types” fuels the fire. The burning need to prove oneself through purpose. Through the pursuit of perfection.

But sometimes I wonder, what if I had a perfect upbringing? What would I be then?

Now it’s easy to say, “no family is really perfect.” That’s the semantic argument. But I do think there are perfect families out there, I think they are rare, but they exist.

I won’t do a huge analysis of what a perfect family would be, but the basics as I see it would be a mother and father that love each other and their child unconditionally, an extended family that fit their roles to a tee with no drunk uncles/rotten apples, money, and have it all covered by the veil of anonymity (i.e. no celebrities). Celebrity only causes issues, and the point of perfection is to not have any issues.

So if this model of perfection is your family, from what well do you draw passion? If you are natured/nurtured in perfection maybe passion, by virtue of being linked to the pursuit of perfection, is inaccessible for you.

Don’t get me wrong. You can get excited. Things stiffen, things moisten, things get all tingly inside. But real passion? Real purpose? I wonder…

The awareness of our imperfection is that which both frees and shackles us. And there’s no nature/nurture combination that can remove that knowledge because it is us. This is why self-effacement is always the safe bet for a public persona. Because our conscience says,

“You arrogant fool you can’t possibly think of yourself as perfect. Perfection is an idea we came up with to help identify ourselves. It is something that we are not, and therefore helps us see who we are. We want it, we worship it, we fight for it, but it is not for us to possess. So stay humble.”

So we hate on Terrell Owens, Simon Cowell, Omarosa and anyone else who acts like they're the shit. Like they're perfect.

Of course a child from the perfect family would naturally be aware of their pedigree. Maybe too aware. And therein lies the rub. You need imperfection to ground yourself in humanity. You need it to have the revelation, the dramatic second act finale, the epiphanic moment.

Every father/son movie, and every mother/daughter movie has the moment where child realizes the parent is imperfect. They realize parents make mistakes just like them. And that they are the one sometimes in need of chastising and punishment. And that they are, after all, human.

But what if the moment doesn’t happen?

If you had a perfect family, you would never have that moment. Your parents would have raised you with the perfect balance of reverence and reality. You know they’re human, but you also know they’re somehow perfect.

So you can tell a story without an arc, but you can’t tell a compelling story without an arc. You need change. You need evolution. You need an error, and then *ahhhhhh* the correction. We triumph again.

This is the primal lesson in any class or book on writing for film, tv, or print.

It may be the primal lesson in any class or book on living.

Children from perfect families are like walking in on the end-credits of a great film. You can see and feel all the goodness that must have happened, but you probably don’t care because you missed the story. You missed the drama. You missed the passion. The purpose. The pursuit of perfection. The point.

Maybe a lack of passion or purpose is the backlash from having a perfect family.

All of us passionate, inspired, starving artists are busy trying to fix ourselves through creative expression and obsession.

But those from perfect homes ain't broken.

And if it ain’t broke, how do you fix it?

I told my friend maybe he's having trouble finding passion because he was raised in a perfect family. He's always had unconditional love at his disposal, so there's no fundamental drama to his life.

He said, "maybe you're right, but I think I just need to get laid."

He's probably more right than I am



  1. I've got some cousins whose upbringing probably fits the perfect-family mold. They're Republicans who like to make money. One of them has taught his kids to call a penis a "doodle." No art, no charm.

    You're making me feel so fortunate to have grown up with parents whose dysfunctionality increased every year. But now I'm underperforming. I should be pursuing purpose with passion instead of perpetrating persiflage.

  2. Anonymous10/20/2005

    goddam Tan Man !! (that rhymed)

    that was awesome

    I'm going to pass this along to all my friends from "perfect" families.

  3. He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. --Samuel Smiles.

    Great post.

  4. Anonymous10/20/2005

    hmmmmm. You make some very good points here, especially: "But those from perfect homes have nothing to fix."

    and then earlier in the post you state that: "...what a perfect family would be, but the basics as I see it would be a mother and father that love each other and their child unconditionally, an extended family that fit their roles to a tee with no drunk uncles/rotten apples, money, and have it all."

    I grew up in a neighborhood with a lot of "perfect families". To this day, both my hub and I are almost considered unusual because we both come from families where there is no divorce (his parents and mine are still married) and because we've been married for 23 years. And yes, we both love our girls unconditionally.

    I wouldnt say it was a perfect marriage for either his parents, my parents or for us a hundred percent of the time either. Marriage is a hell of an evolving process. Anyone who gets married in their 20's and thinks things will always be the same at 30, 40, 50 needs to get a clue soon. People change and so do the dynamics of the marriage.
    And that affects the "perfect" family syndrome.

    When I was a kid I envied some of my friends whom I thought had perfect lives because their parents were so involved in their day to day activities and because they did things together as a family; i.e. vacations, parties, tennis and swimming lessons, etc.
    My family hardly ever did anything together and I had very little contact with aunts/uncles etc when I was growing up, so I thought my friend's families were perfect.

    I've noticed a common trend among those friends that grew up in those types of families: while they're not perfect in any way, they've raised their kids very similar to their own upbringing. They went on to teach them values and work ethics and so on. Almost all of them waited to have kids well into their 20's and the divorce rate is pretty low. It's just the way it worked out.

    So where do they get their passion?
    From love. Before you roll your eyes, love is what makes you get out of bed at 2 am because you know your kid kicks the blanket off and wakes up cold at night. Love is what makes you drive across town at 11:41 p.m. because you heard about a party going on, and you have the nerve to be the uncool parent and get your kid out of there before the 21 drinks game starts.
    Love is looking down the road to what the future might be for your family instead of worrying about the way they are in the "here and now".
    It's about taking the time to try to find a way to guide your kids in the right direction, while at the same time knowing when to stand back and let them go their own way.

    It's the hardest thing you'll ever do because your kids will have their own ideas how things should be done.

    It's not always about passion that arrives from having been in a dysfunctional family and wanting better. Despite my hub's parents long marriage and (weird) love for their kids, they had a largely dysfunctional settings: his mom was abusive.

    The love you get when you put that child in your arms for the first time ever, when you realize the enormous scope of responsibility you have on your hands is huge. If it's right, you'll know in your gut that you're the only one who should make that happen. You'll want to make that life for your kid be the right one, no matter what. and you'll kick anyone's ass who interferes.

    that's where the passion will come from.

  5. Anonymous10/20/2005

    whoa, sorry that was so long!

  6. pebon, anon, pekah - thanks

    orange - maybe you should tell yor parents to smack you around a ittle bit. that'll get the fire burning again I'm sure.

    laura - well I wrote a long post, so presumably long comments are allowed. but you do make an interesting point.

    maybe the passionless due to a perfect family would only know how to direct passion on to their children and/or family. The middle-of-the-road non-descript typecast says you work, get married, and raise a family. That is your purpose. So it would figure you might feel a little lost if you haven't gotten to that family stage yet. That would also go in line with people feelign a complete and total realignment of priorities once they do have children. It is the birth of their purpose ... and passion.

    so I guess the moral is if you gots no passion, make a baby, and see if that helps.

  7. Anonymous10/21/2005

    yeah, if you got no passion, just get LAID. skip the baby crap! LOLOL


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