How often do you allow yourself to be a work in progress?


Today is July 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow yourself to be a work in progress?” People who navigate the chaos dedicate themselves to continuously developing their knowledge, skills, and experiences. Translating dreams into reality is a never-ending process and allows one to be in a state of perpetual development if they so choose. Reid Hoffman mentions this in his book The Start-Up of You. According to Reid "we are all works in progress. Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, grow more in our lives and careers. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs that there is new development to do on yourself that you will need to adapt and evolve."


Unfortunately, as you travel your path of navigating the chaos, you will encounter some people who have decades of experience doing one job and believe they are experts and know everything about everything. Far too often, these individuals lack any self-awareness, have an inflated sense of ego, and provide myopic advice often best ignored. Andy Hargadon, head of the entrepreneurship center at the University of California-Davis, says that for many people "twenty years of experience is really one year of experience repeated twenty times.” When you come across such people ask yourself if you really want to listen to someone who has done the same job once and then repeated it 20 or 30 years in a row?

Artists provide a good reference point for today’s question. Tasked with creating a work of art out of thin air, artists understand the need for a lifetime dedication to progress perhaps better than most. During the March-September 2016 period, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City opened the exhibition “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.” According to The Met’s website “This exhibition addresses a subject critical to artistic practice: the question of when a work of art is finished. Beginning with the Renaissance masters, this scholarly and innovative exhibition examines the term unfinished in its broadest possible sense, including works left incomplete by their makers, which often give insight into the process of their creation, but also those that partake of a non finito—intentionally unfinished—aesthetic that embraces the unresolved and open-ended.”


One such example is a small, exquisitely detailed drawing Jan van Eyck made in 1437, in preparation for a painted panel where Saint Barbara sits on a hill near a looming Gothic tower. She holds a thick book and long, graceful palm leaves. The young woman is drawn in black, on a pale background. Van Eyck paints in just a few birds against a blue sky and stopped and, the story goes, declared "It's a masterpiece." No one knows why van Eyck didn't apply paint to the rest of the panel. But he signed and dated it, which usually means an artist thinks it's finished.

As Susan Stamberg from NPR noted on May 31, 2016 “Rembrandt was once asked why so many of his works look half-finished. He replied: ‘A work of art is complete when in it the artist has realized his intention.’ Rembrandt implies that it's up to the artist to decide, not to critics, who may say a work appears raw, lacking a complete appearance. For example, Paul Cezanne, who was never satisfied, rarely signed his works. In a letter to his mother, he wrote that finishing things was a goal for imbeciles.” Imbeciles might be a bit harsh, but Cezanne’s point is well taken. One is never finished, and perfection is a fool’s errand. A lifetime commitment to development, however, is within everyone’s reach. So too is the decision as to when one work of art, or aspect of your life is complete, thus allowing you to move on to the next.


American playwright and director Tyler Perry exemplifies one who possessed a lifetime of commitment to development in order to navigate the chaos and practice the art of living well. Perry learned that his failures provided him many lessons that he used to move forward. Perry’s childhood in New Orleans was marked by a pattern of abuse by his father, and the bitterness from the broken relationship became a source of unforgiveness as Perry grew older, eventually moving to Atlanta. It was only after channeling his struggles through writing, that he found a deeper calling. After praying for God to help him to forgive his father, whom he later reconciled with, Perry turned his turbulent story of forgiveness and redemption into the stage play “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” From 1992 to 1998, every time he put on the play it flopped and was considered a financial failure until he revamped it and found success taking it on the road from 1998 to 2000.


Perry allowed his life to be a work in progress and as he tweaked his show he made his foray into film transposing many of his stage productions into screen gems, dating back to 2001 when he introduced his play “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” to wide audiences via DVDs that were sold on his Web site. It was the $50.7 million box office success of his 2005 debut “Diary of a Mad Black Woman” that landed him a lucrative first-look, multiyear distribution deal with Lionsgate Entertainment. Perry would go on to create 17 films and six television shows.


When reflecting upon his life Perry said: “You have to understand that what you may perceive to be a failure may very well be an opportunity to learn, grow, get better, and prepare for the next level. If you find the lessons in what you perceive to be failures, then you won’t ever fail at anything. Everything I learned during the ‘learning’ years (that’s what I call them now) has helped me in the ‘harvest’ years (that’s what I’m living in now). Do not be hard on yourself. You have not failed. Find the lesson so you can use it when you get to your harvest.”

  • How often do you consider yourself a work in progress?