Author Allison Leotta and “Approaching Imperfection”

AllisonThis past week, I spent some time with one of my favorite Spartan authors. She’s Allison Leotta, a writer that the critics are calling “The Female John Grisham” for her series of crime thrillers, the latest of which, “The Last Good Girl” is now available in bookstores and on line. Allison is a former federal sex crimes prosecutor in Washington DC and has seen more than her share of both victims and bad guys. Her writing touches a number of uncomfortable places that exist in our culture today. And it’s great writing.

When I read Allison Leotta, Megan Abbot and John Grisham, I ride an emotional rollercoaster. But not for the reasons you might think. I love great writing. And when I get the opportunity to experience it, two things happen. On one hand they inspire me to want to try my hand at fiction. On the other, they express their art so well that I want to give it up. I’m my own harshest critic and can’t imagine putting together ten thousand words with such crisp, uniform beauty.

Allison writes a book a year. She spends 6 months researching it thoroughly. Then she outlines the story to give her a pathway to follow from start to finish. And then she begins writing, 2500 words a day, rain or shine, in good times and bad. And she does it with two young children in toe and a husband who’s own career as a federal prosecutor puts more than a few demands on the family’s time.

Every successful author has a system by which they create their art. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo wrote Sparticus in his bathtub. Hemingway wrote with intensity from 9AM until 2PM and then let it go, forgetting about the task at hand until the next morning and living the rest of his life to the fullest.

The message here is that there are many ways to get something done and everybody needs to find their own groove. Some of us work best with the pressure of a deadline upon us. Others require a muse to inspire them before they can begin to create. Whether it’s an exercise routine, your homework or tackling an assignment at the office, learn your own unique circadian rhythms, make a note of the routine and try your best to follow it.

And also be aware that nothing ever stays the same. What works for you this year, might not work in the next year, the next job or the next place you choose to live. Don’t be afraid to adapt, to try a new routine. Your secret sauce is always a recipe ripe for experimentation.

So our thought for the week is this: Approach life with a researchers intellect, an artists eye and an insatiable desire to be fully present in every possible moment. This is the essence of mindfulness practice. Here’s how Psychology Today defines it:

“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

You can read more about it in Ekhart Tolle’s powerful book, “The Power of Now” and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s “Wherever You Go, There You Are”.

This week’s Q”&A comes a friend in California who works in a high pressure start up company. Silicon Valley is a big pond filled with big fish. No matter how smart you are, you’re probably not the smartest person in the room and your imperfections loom large. “How,” she asks, “can we deal with our inevitable imperfections in a pressure cooker environment.”

I love imperfection. It’s the one personality trait that we all share. And how we think about it can make all the difference.

Imperfection equals opportunity; opportunity to grow, opportunity to cultivate humility for yourself and patience for others, and the opportunity to imagine what treasures await along the road from good to great.

Nothing is perfect. That’s why the highest rating that a product can get from Consumer Reports magazine is acceptable. And acceptability is a relative thing, it all depends on perceptions and paradigms. It’s in everything and everyone. For someone who as acknowledged the inevitability of imperfection, the glass can be half full, not half empty. There are always things to love and things to learn.

The secret is how you coach yourself and others toward improvement. Remember that major change does not happen over night. It’s a game of inches, of two steps forward and one (and sometimes two or even three) steps backward. Relentlessly poke at the edges of your comfort zone. Think about the things you wish you could improve and start first by asking yourself if they really need improving.

Sometimes acceptable may be enough. Our world can be a constant push toward the next promotion, more money and more things. There’s nothing wrong with a definition of happiness that doesn’t require CEO status or a the body of a supermodel.

But beware of the unacceptable. We are often stuck in painful current realities because we lack the will to remove ourselves from the unacceptable. Are there any glaring imperfections that are holding you back? What can you do today to address them?

“Have no fear of perfection,” wrote the great artist Salvador Dalí. “you’ll never reach it.”

But don’t let the imperfect stop you from pondering how you might improve. The trick is knowing when to be patient and when to push. Listen to your heart, and you’ll know when to do what.

And consider the advice of the 21st century philosopher, Brené Brown: “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”