Rejecting “standards”

One of my self-defining memories has to do with the way I look.

I was about ten or eleven, leaning over a one-page newspaper advertisement. The ad was an open call to an annual nationwide beauty pageant in Japan for girls under, I think, sixteen years old.  I studied the many small photos of the past winners of various prizes. I didn’t look like any of them. At all. That made me sad for a while. I kept on looking, and then realized that they all looked alike. In my defiance, I decided, I’d rather be unique, and myself, than “beautiful.”

Perfection is boring.

If you aim yourself or your work to meet a generic standard, then you are setting yourself up to be judged by that standard. And because you never, ever, know what others are truly thinking, you have to constantly worry about that mysterious and foreign “standard” that you are aiming for, and assume that others judge you by. But if you are confident, without the need to conform to a generic standard, you only have yourself to please, and make proud.

Perfection is unreal.

I’ve had the privilege of cultivating my confidence through my life, and development, as a musician. I only have an occasional glimpse of how much of a privilege that really has been. At an amateur music festival, I meet and work with adult amateur musicians, all accomplished in their respective fields of expertise, bearing themselves vulnerable in front of audiences displaying their love of an art that they know they cannot be “perfect” at. I see their hands shake, loose control of their breath, and they still give up a week of their lives, subject themselves to coaching by musicians generations younger than themselves, to declare that their dedication towards their ideal is more important than the strange standard of “perfection.” That is beautiful to me, especially in a time when the standard of “perfection” is more strongly enforced than ever by technologically enhanced and perfected inhuman recordings of professional performances.