In episode 26 of Futurama, resident mad scientist Professor Farnsworth’s sadness meter hits 100% after he formulates a scientific equation explaining the mysteries of the universe. “I devoted every waking moment to answering the fundamental questions of science”, Farnsworth laments. “I never married, rarely went outside, and now that I’ve found all the answers I realize that what I was living for were the questions.”
“If only,” he rues, “I’d made some mistake.”
One of the more insidious ways we have for stopping ourselves from celebrating our accomplishments is to dwell on how we might have done it better. Armed with freshly learned abilities and know-how, our inner perfectionist turns moments for developing self-appreciation into bouts of rumination. Oh, how much better it would’ve been if only we’d started out with the skills and knowledge this project just taught us! It’s funny how little regard our inner perfectionist has for either the questions that inspire us or the subsequent growth and accomplishments they kindle.
Next time you catch your inner perfectionist taking pot shots at your latest achievement, consider the first time Jackson Pollock decided to drip paint on canvas. In one sense, like Professor Farnsworth, Pollock found the answer to all the questions about painting that he had been struggling with up to that point. For Pollock however, this a was beginning rather than an end: he had found a way of posing new questions to himself, producing the iconic body of work for which he is still remembered. As Professor Farnsworth too eventually recognizes once he formulates a completely new question for himself, “the pursuit of knowledge is hopeless and eternal – horray!”