“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman’s Odyssey
She paced back and forth in the kitchen. Then she would sit in a chair and put her face in her hands, grumble something under her breath, and get up and pace again with eyebrows furrowed and lips pursed.
The family knows that the best course of action would be to leave her alone.
For those that are close to me, it is easy to assume that I am talking in the third person. If you really know my family, you know that I could also be talking about my daughter who has inherited my perfectionist tendencies.
In this case, it is the latter.
Mikey has been trying tirelessly to make the perfect batch of macarons for the past six weeks. She has been waiting for the trip to Toronto to bake them without the complication of jungle humidity.
For Chris and I, it has been an expensive investment in the lesson of patience, failure and imperfection. And I am not just talking about Mikey. It was a fascinating process for all of us to observe.
Do you know how much almond flour costs? Do you know how many times I watched her in a fit of rage dump a tray full of imperfect macarons in the garbage? I had a brief irrational instinct to lecture her on starving kids in Africa but instead, thanks to a lifetime of personal experience of perfectionist behaviour, I helped clean up the mess.
After she cooled down, we would talk about the particular failure:
Overcooked and dry.
Wet and sticky on the bottom.
I didn’t know there were so many ways to fail at macarons. She would go back and watch videos and tutorials for hours, even days, on step-by-step procedures and troubleshooting. She would read every blog post on this French delectable. Then she would make her adjustments: oven temperature, time, ingredients, technique. I think she even added praying a “Hail Mary” as it went into the oven.
There wasn’t a perfect batch in the six weeks.
But there was this one batch.
In this one batch, half were perfect and the other half came out a little lopsided but still tasted great. She was so excited. She made the buttercream filling and made the delicate “sandwiches” out of the perfect half of the batch and gave them out to her family and all her grandparents only eating one for herself as a tester.
People wanted more. There were still those lopsided ones in the tray but she wouldn’t serve them. I knew why. They weren’t perfect. Just like the ones that had no foot and were a little dry but turned into a yummy cookie. Just like the ones that were a little too soft and sticky but tasted like meringues.
I made myself one of those lopsided sandwiches and ate it, focusing on the flavour which was perfect. Risking an eye roll from her, another inheritance from me, I told her that sometimes it’s ok to fail and focus on what turned out great like the flavour or the texture or a new creation that happened accidentally. That’s what happened with a lot of scientific discoveries like X-rays, penicillin, and velcro.
I reminded her of all her bread-making and dessert attempts and the feeling she got when there was an unexpected outcome that turned the dessert or bread even better like her sun bread-cinnamon roll mash-up she decided to create. It was a hit. It was so popular that she refuses to make it for us anymore.
She knows this all but she can’t help but want it to be perfect. I tell her that I will always be proud that she tried and was willing to get up again and risk another failure in the pursuit.
Cue the eye roll.