You can learn a lot from Stuart Smalley. Despite being intended as a satire of new age self-help gurus, Al Franken’s Saturday Night Live character (who is “not a licensed therapist”) is a remarkably insightful guy. After all, he thought up the catchphrase that is the title of this article.
If you aren’t familiar with the character, Smalley is a self-help therapist who’s only qualification is that he’s had all of the problems he tries to address in his patients. So you could say he’s more empathetic than Deanna Troi. Of course Stuart doesn’t just feel his patients problems, he’s still living them himself.
Stuart has all the answers but can’t seem to find the solution, for all his helpful (and not so helpful) advice, his own life is still a mess. Almost everyone knows someone like Stuart. Someone who reads every single self-help book on the planet, but has somehow failed to make use of a single ounce of the knowledge they’ve gained to improve their own life, and yet they are quite sure they know exactly how to fix yours. So the first lesson to be learned from Stuart Smalley is: Don’t be like Stuart Smalley.
But the beauty of Stuart is that even though he himself is totally dysfunctional, his advice is actually very sound. In fact, even though he is a fictional character intended as a joke, he may actually be the most accessible self-help guru on the planet. One thing about self-help authors is that, perhaps as a natural side effect of the material they are covering, they tend to come across as pretentious. Stuart Smalley on the other hand manages to both make fun of the self-help genre while at the same time displaying a sort of reverence to it.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the audio-book, You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, And Doggone It, People Like You, a mockery of guided visualization tapes. Unfortunately it’s long out of print, but if you can find it, I highly suggest you snap it up. It’s hilarious! The premise of YGEYSEADIPLY (did you see what I did there?) is that Smalley, being a perfectionist (but that’s okay, he’s owning the problem), has made a solemn vow not to edit, as he knows if he starts editing he’ll never stop and the project will never be finished. As a result the album include Smalley bantering with his producers, and the guided visualization are often restarted half way through after Stuart realizes he’s made a mistake. This results in some hilarious episodes. One visualization starts out with Smalley placing the listener in a meadow, naked, he then adds that they could be wearing shorts if they are not comfortable with nudity. But he does get the project finished! So:
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Make a solemn vow not to edit in your life. Is your quest for perfection preventing you from making progress at all? Is your fear of making a mistake or being judged stopping your from even trying? Do you think about doing things and then stop yourself dead in your tracks with thoughts like “I would do it, if…(or when…, or but…)”? Don’t be the novelist who spend years perfecting one book and never finishes it. Don’t be the painter who has dozens of unfinished canvases he has deemed to be not good enough (remember, You’re Good Enough…).
Give yourself permission to fail, your failures will earn you experience that will make you better next time. Don’t worry about what other people will think, just get up and try again. Successful people’s failures are rarely remembered, but if you read the biographies of nearly any successful person you will discover that before they had success they had plenty of failures.
Don’t make excuses for not taking action. Don’t say “If/when such and such was better/different/closer/younger, then I’d go for it”. You only have today. Tomorrow, next week, and next year do not exist yet. There is no perfect time, and if you sit around waiting for it to come, you will sit around waiting forever. You must create your perfect time, by taking action today.
When you start something, see it through. It may not work out the way you hope, but if you never finish you will never know, and it will have been wasted effort. If it doesn’t pan out quite right, accept the experience, and try again.
Live creatively, and live in The Limelight.