Michael Jackson was a perfectionist. He referred to himself as such.
During his rehearsals before a performance or when he was at recording sessions in the studio; he would stand in front of the guitarist: “dume-dume-dududume-dume-dum” making sounds with his mouth and wouldn’t leave his sight until what the guitarist was playing matched the sounds coming from Michael’s mouth. When that was accomplished, he would move to the drummer, the trumpeter and on and on until everyone in the studio was in sync with what was in his head. It had to be perfect –just the way he had imagined it!
The result? We enjoyed his work. I was a huge MJ fan growing up and everyone I played with, then, loved the man and his music immensely. It was as though he always wanted the best for us, his fans, and he delivered it consistently.
I watched a documentary of him recently. In the spring of 1983, his old label Motown planned a major televised extravaganza to celebrate its 25th birthday. Michael performed extraordinarily at this event, where he did the moonwalk in front of the cameras. The crowd went wild! It was said that he changed music history that day. But guess what? He was disappointed with his performance. He was fixated on one element which to him wasn’t done right but to the audience, blew them away. He wanted to stand on his toes longer than he had done, after the moonwalk. Unbelievable!
Another unbelievable event was after he had “only” two nominations and one win at the 1980 Grammy Awards. He felt a deep sense of failure and for weeks on end he sobbed and cried in his family home –refusing to get up, refusing to pull it together. It was very hard for him to deal with such failure after all the work he had put in.
After sobbing and having his long pity party, though, he rose up from the ashes and declared that his next performance was “going to set the world on fire!” And then he worked tirelessly on the different tracks that made his album Thriller the biggest selling album ever. And of course, at the 1984 Grammy’s, he cleaned up with a whopping eight awards!
Michael Jackson was not a perfectionist; I wouldn’t refer to him so.
He did not sit down and imagine the perfect beat of the drum and sounds from the strings of the guitar in his head while never getting off his butt to go to the studios to try them out.
He did not throw his hands up after his so-called Motown 25 fiasco or his Grammy’s disappointment; and declare that there was no use trying to moonwalk again or shoot for the stars, since he did not do so perfectly the first time.
He did not stop at Thriller given that it was such a huge success, but he continued to work even harder on other singles and albums, trying to trump Thriller’s performance. And he never quite rested in trying to achieve that, until he died.
I think I want to learn from Michael. Instead of being a perfectionist, I want to be a ‘progressionist’. I do not want to hesitate in doing something worthwhile until I have all my ducks in a row. I want to implement, take action and fine-tune even as I progress along the way. I want to always realize that I do not have to be great at something before I start doing it, but that I have to start doing something now to be great at it someday.
All hail the perfectionist (read: ‘progressionist’) The one who realizes that not only do others around them deserve the best of their effort, but that they will never really put their best work out there as long as they are still alive.
We are humans who grow every day, and today’s effort will be bettered tomorrow. And the day after will be the best of the three. For:
Good, better, best
I shall never rest
Until my good is better
And my better best.
Take action today, no matter how imperfect. Just keep on fine-tuning, improving every next try and every single day. Don’t take pride in remaining the same yesterday, today and forever. Leave that to the Ancient of Days, who’s already perfect as perfect can be. Focus on becoming the best version of yourself now, and always.