The Pursuit of Perfection

“He who is determined not to be satisfied with any thing short of perfection, will never do any thing at all, either to please himself or others. The question is not what we ought to do, but what we can do for the best.”

“… a dull plodding fellow will often do better than one of a more mercurial and fiery cast – the mere unconsciousness of his own deficiencies, or of any thing beyond what he himself can do, reconciles him to his mechanical progress, and enables him to perform all that lies in his power with labour and patience. By being content with mediocrity, he advances beyond it; whereas the man of greater taste or genius may be supposed to fling down his pen or pencil in despair, haunted with the idea of unattainable excellence, and ends in being nothing, because he cannot be every thing at once. Those even who have done the greatest things, were not always perhaps the greatest men. To do any given work, a man should not be greater in himself than the work he has to do; the faculties which he has beyond this, will be faculties to let, either not used, or used idly and unprofitably, to hinder, not to help. To do any one thing best, there should be an exclusiveness, a concentration, a bigotry, a blindness of attachment to that one object; so that the widest range of knowledge and most diffusive subtlety of intellect will not uniformly produce the most beneficial results; – and the performance is very frequently in the inverse ratio, not only of the pretensions, as we might superficially conclude, but of the real capacity.”

“Respice finem (consider the outcome), is the great rule in all practical pursuits: to attain our journey’s end, we should look little to the right or to the left; the knowledge of excellence as often deters and distracts, as it stimulates the mind to exertion; and hence we may see some reason, why the general diffusion of taste and liberal arts is not always accompanied with an increase of individual genius.”

– William Hazlitt, On The Qualifications Necessary For Success

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