Potential or Perfection?

 Posted by Kathy Waller


‘What virtues do you wish more of?’ asks Mr.L. I answer:—

Louisa May Alcott

Patience, Love, Silence,
Obedience, Generosity, Perseverance,
Industry, Respect, Self-denial.

‘What vices less of?’

Idleness, Wilfulness, Vanity,
Impatience, Impudence, Pride,
Selfishnes, Activity, Love of cats.

Louisa May Alcott. Journal, October 1882


Have you drawn up your list of New Year’s Resolutions?

I haven’t.

It isn’t that I don’t want to lose weight, exercise, read more books, write more books, get a manicure every week, clean out the closets, clean out everything else, start taking voice lessons again, practice the piano, learn to speak Spanish, get to bed by 10:00 p.m. six nights a week, eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables every day, improve my posture, give up sugar, serve a tasty home-cooked meal every evening, learn to cook,  break that nasty little addiction to Candy Crush, increase in lovingkindness and thoughtfulness and generosity, lose the tendency to shoot off my mouth, and be able to lay hands on my car keys and passwords at all times.

I would love to give up vice and wallow in virtue.

But after decades of December 31 Brainstorming for Perfection sessions, I’m still the Same Old Me. So I’ve given up resolving instead.

Now when the Old Year gives way to the New, I ponder the words of columnist Ellen Goodman:

We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.

So. What is my potential? What am I capable of doing or becoming? What possibilities does the year hold in store?

Might I start a story? A book? Finish one? Publish one? Or more?

Might I sing? Paint?

Travel? Meet new people? Make new friends?

Have a grand adventure? Or two? Or three?

I might.

I might do any number of things–because I may do them, not because I should or must.

I might learn to cook because I want to. Perhaps that’s part of my potential.

Carrying Ms. Goodman’s suggestion into 2018, I feel as if a brick has been lifted off my head. A year of possibilities lies before me. A year of discovery. A year of I wonders and what ifs.

It’s better this way.

Louisa May Alcott, who was not her father’s ideal child, knew what he wanted of her. She resolved to try. Judging from what I’ve read, she didn’t succeed. The adult Louisa was industrious, perseverant, generous and loving, but she was also willful, impatient, forthright, blunt, tactless, and, to a certain degree, proud. And, although I can’t document this, I know she never lost her love of cats.

Her resolutions worked about as well as mine have.

But here’s the thing–If Louisa had not retained her vices–if she hadn’t been willful as well as industrious, and proud as well as perseverant–she might never have published a word. She outdid  the father who pushed her toward perfection. Her potential lay in a different direction.

Perfection is overrated anyway. It drains the energy. Could a perfect Louisa May Alcott have written Little Women? I doubt it.

So, setting aside the shoulds, oughts, and musts, I ask–What is my potential in 2018?

What is yours?

Have you thought about it?


M. K. Waller, aka Kathy, blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly and at Austin Mystery Writers. Her stories have been published in Austin Mystery Writers’ two crime fiction anthologies, MURDER ON WHEELS and LONE STAR LAWLESS, and in Kaye George’s DAY OF THE DARK: Stories of Eclipse. Her flash fiction appears on Mysterical-EShe edits the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter newsletter/blog, HOTSHOTS!