Before I go into a job interview, there’s always one question that I have to prepare for – “what’s your greatest weakness?” It’s a horrible question. It’s a trap. Like when your dentist asks if you’ve been flossing.
If you answer honestly, you may end up costing yourself the job. If you do the “make a positive a negative” gambit, the interviewer will see through you and think you’re dishonest. What do you say?
There was a time (an embarrassing one), when I answered that question by saying my weakness was perfectionism. I’d explain that I was so obsessed with making a flawless end product that I struggled to call the project complete. And while this was an attempt to humble brag my way through a difficult question, abandoning perfectionism is a real challenge many creatives share.
Unlike science, art can never be perfect. And while I know very little about rocket science, what I do know is that rocket science is easy. At the end of the day, there is only one right answer to the equation – the rocket either takes off or it crashes. In retrospect, the mission is either a success or a failure. There is no gray area.
In improv, as with any creative art, the idea of the single right answer is laughable. Everyone has different interpretations, different tastes, different moods, and looking back on the show, who can really say if it was good or bad? It’s all a matter of perspective.
There’s a saying, “shoot the engineer, ship the product.” It means that what you’re creating doesn’t have to be perfect. It needs to be good enough for now, and it can always be improved down the road.
Engineers meticulously craft and obsess. Shippers get the product out the door so people can experience and enjoy it. Improvisers are challenged to serve both roles at the same time.
If you’re hanging on the back wall trying to come up with the perfect initiation or thinking about a walk on or wondering how to perfectly connect 1B with 2B, you’re doing too much engineering and not enough shipping. And no matter how hard you engineer your next move, it could still fail because there is no equation for making art like there is for science.
Perfectionism is something we can strive for, but we can’t let it get in the way of bringing our ideas to life. We have to accept that we will never have the perfect improv set. When you’re making something up on the spot, there will always be hiccups. Upon reflection, there will always be something you could have done better. There will always be people who don’t like it no matter how hard you work at it or even how great it truly is. That’s the struggle of the artist. If you can’t handle that, maybe it’s time to see if NASA is hiring.