Preston Richey

Hey Presto! #2: A Non-precious Activity

This is a version of a post I sent out via my email newsletter. If you’d like to follow along, you can sign up here.


A few weeks ago I went to a yoga class, my first one in a while. I had forgotten - maybe not intellectually, but physically - how good it feels to stretch deeply. At one point in the class, after a particularly intricate pose, the instructor asked us to take a moment and reflect: were we allowing ourselves to be present, or were we beating ourselves up for not doing the pose perfectly? She asked us, simply, to let the class be a non-precious activity. That idea - an intentional turning-off of the optimization feedback loop and letting an activity exist on its on merit, simply as it is - has stuck with me.

After a bit of reflection, it turns out I very rarely allow myself to be non-precious about anything. I think this is part of what makes me me, for better or worse. It also, I think, is what gives me a knack for programming. Always being on the lookout for a way to rework a bit of code to be cleaner or faster is one of the marks of a good developer.

Yet life is not code (at least not unless you believe Elon Musk, and not everything needs be tediously optimized. Some things can, and should, exist as they are - simply good enough. So often I struggle to push things out the door because I want them to be as great as I know they can be. (In fact, I mentioned this in my last newsletter.) The problem, though, is that you can always do more. Nothing is ever perfect, and most of the time pushing something ever-closer to some hypothetical ideal is a game of chasing diminishing returns.

So what’s there to do? I’m still figuring it out, but I think the first step is to cultivate non-preciousness. Ultimately, beating yourself up for not doing a yoga pose ‘correctly’ will only serve to dissuade yourself from further practice (which, ironically is probably going to be the most effective way of actually improving). Is stressing out about the crop or caption on that Instagram post - something that likely will garner only a few seconds of attention from your followers - really worth the stress? The answer here, Preston, is no. I just need to try and feel this more intuitively and more often.

Opportunities abound. Going on a run, practicing guitar, or meditating are all activities that are better done than not. Period. They are all things I would like to be better at, and simply showing up and making an effort is the only way to get there. If I were to wait until I can run with perfect form, I would never even lace up my shoes. It would be ridiculous for me to wait to meditate until I can do it perfectly. So why should I not approach everything else the same way? Preciousness has a time and place, but it must be well-reasoned and intentional. Most of the time (for me at least), it isn’t.

As with most things, it’s a practice. (That’s kind of the point!) The common wisdom is that practice makes perfect. While I may disagree with that sentiment, I do feel confident that practice makes better. For most things, that can, and should, be enough.

Hope you’re enjoying those flowers as much as I am. 😍