Do you allow yourself to be a work in progress?

Today is July 27 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “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 art, 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 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.

How often do you consider yourself a work in progress?