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!

15 thoughts on “Potential or Perfection?

  1. I’ve made two resolutions this year: to find another Internet provider (I wasn’t impressed with my current IP’s service when my Internet went down over Christmas.) and to have my furnace vents cleaned more often. (Maybe that will cut back on dust that could occasionally be wreaking havoc with my allergies. That’s it. Happy New Year!


  2. The closer I have ever come to making a New Year’s resolution is carrying out an assignment for a news feature for the Duplin Times newspaper — on resolutions. I am more than ready to write about them, but don’t intend to ever make any. Lol.


  3. I loved your blog! And it is so full of wisdom. Making and breaking resolutions is a very easy habit I have acquired (and cultivated I’m afraid), and I love the direction you have pointed me in this blog. So much healthier and more inspiring to look at what our potential is and work toward achieving that, and not as a “should” but as a wish to fulfil. Thanks for the thoughtful New Year’s advice!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. I read that in one of Ellen Goodman’s columns years ago, and it was like a whole new way of thinking opened up. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to find it again. Sometimes I revert, start to resolve, remember I might as well not, and decide I’m just too lazy to try–and then I pull out Goodman again. At present, I’m trying to gauge my potential for taking my Silver Sneakers card to that gym down the street and joining up–it would be fun, and a good thing to do–but today’s high of 33 degrees, 97% humidity, which I said this morning is just GLORIOUS, and I still say that, makes me think I should spend the rest of the day indoors, where my fingers feel like it’s at least 34, so I’m glad I didn’t resolve anything about the gym.


    1. Thanks, Doris. Today my potential has focused on sitting here with the laptop, feet up, half asleep, hands and feet cold, too lazy to reach over for a blanket. But things might loosen up a little tomorrow.


  4. Great post! I am recovering perfectionist and fight against it on a daily basis. This is a good reminder to think about where I’ve been and where I’m going without having to focus on perfection.


    1. Thanks, Keri. I didn’t know I had that trait until my mother reported she’d told the minister I’d missed church to work on my thesis and he’d said, “She’s a perfectionist, isn’t she?” Oh. Years later someone pointed out it was one reason I was so tightly wound. Oh again. I’ve improved. Now I place commas in spots I told my students never to place them, and I leave them out where punctuation mavens say they must go. When I do, I think, “Phooey on the textbook; I can do as I please.” In fiction anyway. And editors don’t seem to care. Someday I’m going to toss in a semicolon and see what happens. Retirement can be liberating.


    1. I saw a program about Alcott on PBS several years ago and was surprised by the way she was described as an adult. The letter she wrote rejecting a proposal of marriage was hilarious, but probably terrible for the suitor (though today it’s hilarious). She was determined to be a writer, and she became one, but a Little Woman she was not. Thanks for reading.


  5. I have the potential to do so many things the hard part is picking which ones to pursue. Hubby and I plan out our year with trips, family gatherings and the like the end of each year. Then I sit down and add to the list with my goals for the year. I generally get about half of my goal accomplished so I am not reaching my full potential or I am a bit to ambitious. SO this year my additions list is a bit smaller leaving me time to accomplish things I hadn’t thought of when I made the list.


    1. I understand because I’m the same way. Have you read Barbara Sher’s I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was? She says there are skimmers and divers; skimmers want to do a little of everything, and divers go deep into one thing. I wish I’d specialized in something; mainly I wish I’d continued my voice lessons. But committing to one thing is hard when there are so many things out there. Pinning things down by writing goals seems like a good way to keep on track while leaving room for more. From my point of view, you’re diving into your photography. Thanks for reading.


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