Life as a grand series of experiments

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Hi, I'm Kenetha, and I'm a perfectionist. I'm in recovery, but that's a continual journey for me.

Like most perfectionists, I find this cripples my ability to create or to try new things ... mostly because those efforts involve the very high risk that I will not be perfect on the first try. Since anything less than perfection is a total failure in the perfectionist mindset, it is (quite understandably) better not to even try.

While I still battle those perfectionist tendencies on a daily basis, my background as a scientist has provided the key for me to use in shifting my way of thinking.

Scientist Holding Tube of Liquid at Porton Down Scientist Holding Tube of Liquid at Porton Down by Defence Images, on Flickr. Used via Creative Commons licensing.

That key is that I approach everything I possibly can as an experiment. The goal of an experiment is not to create a perfect something; the goal is to try to something new to see what I can learn from it. The focus is always beyond the experiment itself to the learning and the movement toward a bigger goal that results from that experiment.

When I was a research chemist in drug discovery, I never expected a perfect life-saving pill ready for human use to spring from any reaction I ran. I knew that my reaction was just a stepping stone in a rigorous process that would take many years, much money, and the work of many, many people to even reach the possibility of saving lives. My job was to collect clues and data that would teach us more about what was necessary to reach that ultimate goal in time. And my inner perfectionist was fine with that because all that was expected was the experiment to see what I could learn.

In the last few years, I've been practicing taking that approach to other parts of my life, and it's working well.

When I started blogging a little over three years ago, I had no idea what I was doing, but I treated it like an experiment. I'm still doing that even now. I try new things, see what reaction I get, and use what I learn from it to decide what to try next. I'm still experimenting. I'm still learning. I'm still nowhere near perfection, and that's ok. It's just an experiment.

When I design and make things for my Etsy store, it's one big experiment after another. I've tried new materials, techniques, products, and styles—all as experiments. I put the things I make in my store, and I see what sells and what doesn't. I learn from that response to decide what to experiment with next. Some things I stop making. Some things I make more of. Some things I take apart and reuse the materials to experiment with new things. I've tried many things that were new for me, and I'm still learning from those experiments all the time.

Every time I catch myself measuring myself against my old perfectionist standards, I remind myself that I'm just experimenting. And any experiment that I learn something from is a success, even if the result was not the one I had hoped for. So when I'm feeling like something has failed and I've wasted time, money, and energy on something that didn't pan out, I remind myself that it was an experiment, I look for what I can learn from the result, and I start designing the next experiment using what I've learned.

It may sound like a small change in mindset, but it's been a powerful shift for me. I've tried more new things, taken more risks, and been more creative in the last few years since I've been taking this approach than I have ever been before. After all, I'm just being a scientist and running new experiments. That's so much more doable than perfection!

What are you experimenting with in your life? Where could using the approach of experimentation give you more space to try something new?

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