From a very young age, I was taught that the highest standard of knowledge is science. Anything that can be proven from first principles is the irrefutable truth, and logic is the pinnacle of human achievement.At school, the lessons focused either on rote memorization (History, certain fields of science) or on logic and thinking your way to a conclusion.
Both of these are important aspects of life, but going through schooling, you’d be forgiven that our cerebral selves are the perfect representation of what life is. Objectively and simply, that just isn’t the case.
Both within and without the workplace, the most meaningful successes I’ve had have been emotional; shared moments of vulnerability. Helping someone achieve something they didn’t think possible. A deep sense of presence for others and being cared for when the going gets tough.
In a life without space for imperfection, there’s no place for beauty.
No amount of thinking or logic can conjure the things that really matter. Interpersonal connection, love, the deep drives and desires that ultimately makes life worth living. Put differently: Life is lived in the emotional realm.
In my life as a teacher of photography, I have a canned speech about how great photographers are a combination of technical skills (Getting the camera to do what you want) and creative expression (storytelling). If you only have the technical expertise, you’re a scientific photographer or a documentarian. Technically good photos that are utterly devoid of character. If you only have the creative eye, you’re a pubescent poet: So many stories to tell, so raging with hormones that you can’t pinpoint the exact story you’re trying to tell, so you try to tell them all at once, and your audience misses the point.
Our brains are useless here; true passion can only exist in the emotional realm.
I’ve told the above parable a thousand times, but only just now am I realizing its broader application in life: Through upbringing and schooling, many of us are dealt technical skills. And yes, those are necessary to function in society. But the ‘creative eye’; or a connection with our emotional selves, if you will; is neglected. Even art or music classes — which stand a fighting chance of connecting with emotion — are beaten into submission with a disproportionate focus on the technical side of brush strokes and rhythmic precision.
In the excitement of teaching us the rules of how things are meant to be done when they are ‘perfect’, the universe leaves out the most important guideline of all: It is only in breaking the rules that true artistic expression makes itself known. The emotion we feel from experiencing life stems from surprise; from having our worlds nudged over by a fraction of a degree, and observing how the light spills through the universe when we see it slightly differently, filtered through our own experiences. Our brains are useless here; true passion can only exist in the emotional realm.
In a life without space for imperfection, there’s no place for beauty. Musicians who are high-precision metronomes are boring as fuck. Artists who spend a hundred hours painting a perfectly photo-realistic scene are impressive. But, friend, use a camera and save yourself 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59.995 seconds.
Even the brainiest of pursuits are incomplete without compassion and emotion.
The point I’m trying to make is that I am deeply sad for having over-indexed on my cerebral self for so long. You can’t Excel your way to love and intimacy. You can’t flow-chart your way to happiness and connection. And even the brainiest of pursuits are incomplete without compassion and emotion.
Might I invite you to think about the last time you experienced deep joy. My bet is that it involved a blend of friends, family, spontaneity, beauty, and surprise. Now, think about why you felt joy. I would be unsurprised if you might not have a clear answer.
That’s because we were asking the wrong question. I asked you to think about joy. I should have asked you to feel.
Haje is a pitch coach based in Silicon Valley, working with a founders all over the world to create the right starting point for productive conversations with investors — from a compelling narrative to a perfect pitch. You can find out more at Haje.me. You can also find Haje on Twitter and LinkedIn.