Kevin Lynch, a creative director at ad agency BBDO, spent more than a year living in Airbnb residences in Hong Kong. During this time, stimulated by his observations of this city’s culture, he reflected on the concept of perfection, or per his twist: “perfectionism.” With every word modified (at times insufferable) by the suffix of “ism,” the word changes in length, both visually and conceptually. “Perfectionism” poses a duality. It appears and sounds like both a perk and a pathological condition.
From the angle of a perk, perfectionism embodies an experience integral to learning and succeeding: failure. I admit adding to the fatigue of failure (a phenomenon that 2nd CreativeMornings/Chicago speaker Jason Fried spoke against), because failure is more easily acknowledged than it is applied as a tool to help steer the next outcome. Human civilization is a timeline of failures. Lessons are rarely learned the first time, but relearned over and over for as long as humans keep trying. It’s this persistence of trying, to live and love and work and relax better, that’s noble, even when the human achievement of trying disappears into the past.
As a pathological condition, perfectionism is the build-up of stress, agitation, tension, that we, humans, excel at producing, contaminating the day-to-day circulation of our lives. Perfectionism is a healthy motivator, but it can turn into a maniacal code to live and work by. If left unchecked, the build-up festers, and the results—devastating: divorce, addiction, harm, damage. Perfectionism is the recurring pimple of anxiety.
Caring about everything, but some things—not all
Lynch’s prescription to cope with perfectionism was to “stop caring about everything you want.” It’s informed by his self-initiated “Yearbnb” project, where he visited more than 100 places via Airbnb in Hong Kong. What began as an experiment became an obsession. Intensive travel like this does change a person, because one’s grasp of familiarity is provoked, wherever one is, no matter the distance.
A place is charged with layers of history. The present layer consists of someone else’s familiarity, an elusive sensation. Because a person’s familiarity with a place is different in quality compared to a person new to a place, even different compared to someone native to a place. Each adapts differently to their surroundings: the natural, the artificial. Adaptation is reciprocal, for the surroundings adapt differently to its visitors, particularly its inhabitants.
In addition to Hong Kong, Lynch lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Toronto, and Shanghai. Different places in different surroundings. Different people achieving different qualities of familiarity. A common theme is what is ideal—what is perfect. What perfection means, what it looks and feels like, varies from place to place. From person to person, the image of perfection is held differently.
In some places, whether nations or regions or cities or towns, people are perfectly free. Other places, perfectly absorbed. Still other places, people are perfectly themselves. Lynch noticed a wide range of scenes where people are perfectly content. A huge portion of which may only be a surface impression. In anchoring himself to a place like Hong Kong, the focus of his Airbnb project exceeding a year, Lynch recognized changes (for a lot happens in a year) that, by most accounts, are perfectly normal. In turn, Lynch’s sense of perfection changed.
From his travels, Lynch gleaned what can be perfected. It’s a daily reminder of a daily struggle: to determine what things matter in making a few decisive things work. The cliché of “choose wisely” reigns as the ultimate trick, wherever you are. Daresay, determin(ism) toward wisdom(ism).
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Big thanks: to Gene Siskel Film Center (Host), Razorfish, Braintree, Artisan Talent, WeWork, Green Sheep Water, Garrett Popcorn Shops, for being Partners of Chicago CreativeMornings #42; to organizer Kim Knoll and operations manager Kyle Eertmoed of Knoed Creative, who spoke at Chicago CreativeMornings #7; to the team of volunteers for greatly helping to make CreativeMornings happen monthly in Chicago.
Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008. The fifth chapter was launched in Chicago, June 2011—my write-up and photos.
Read more about the people who make the Chicago chapter of CreativeMornings possible.
2011 was Chicago CreativeMornings’ debut year. Download the entire collection of selected insights.
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