This week we are shedding some light on perfectionism and its superpower; paralyzing creatives. Perfectionism and doing your best, giving 100%, to the best of your ability are two sides of the same coin.
First let’s examine the good - not of perfectionism, but of doing your best to the best of your ability. This comes from having a drive, a need to create, and a desire to put your everything into what you do. I’m not here to demonize wanting to put your best creative foot forward, but when that foot crosses the line into perfectionism, your drive and passion are held in a headlock of fear and pride.
At the root of perfectionism is fear manifesting in a misplaced pride, and as we all know, pride comes before the fall, only in this case we are paralyzed from making the jump in the first place. It denies our right to fail, to fall, by forcing us to stagnate and stand still.
Ways Perfectionism Holds us Back:
Keeps us locked in the apprenticeship phase: perfectionism convinces us we are not yet good enough, not yet ready to share our work and show off who we are as creatives. We spend so much time in the apprenticeship phase of learning, but though we believe we are learning, our growth is crippled by the fear that we cannot learn enough, or are unable to put what we learn into practice in such a way that it hinders our progress.
Being Precious about our work: This comes from the fear factor - the fear of not being good enough. Oftentimes this can translate to mid-project changes, editing and obsessive polishing. This feels more painful than the apprenticeship lockup because we know in our hearts that we are ready to step into our creativity and be seen, but this idea of being perfect has paralyzed us, telling us that we cannot possibly be ready, just not yet, one more change, a little last minute tweak. This narrative is so deeply internalized in the creative community that we are still facing this carrier, even after all of the self help, the TED talks, the acknowledgement that our first draft should be crap, not every attempt can be top notch, that our beginning, middle and end won't look like anyone else's, we are still paralyzed by this perfectionism narrative.
My Journey with Perfectionism:
I have come up against this barrier in every aspect of my creative life. For whatever reason - that’s a lie, I know the reason - this has never been as crippling in dance. This may be counterintuitive to the strict image of perfection ballet in particular personifies, the effort of an athlete, but the grace of an ephemeral goddess, but exams taught me that there was always room for improvement, and I always wanted that feedback to get better, and on top of that, competition hammered home the truth that you can only do what you can do for those three minutes on stage that day at that time, and that judge is operating in the same way, so take it with a grain of salt. This really helps to combat the lie of perfectionism and ground you in the present moment of creating.
However, in my writing, perfectionism is completely crippling. My passion project has had four huge rewrites, mid-draft editing to this day and may never be a published work because it is my precious child that must always be protected. This past year I have been trying to break through this barrier with my writing and really work on not being precious about it. My first crack at it was NaNoWriMo 2021 - and though it was exhausting and stressful and not a sustainable creative practice - it was such a lesson in just getting the words on the page and sorting it all out later. I am slowly learning to embrace this concept of my 80% done is ready to share, otherwise I will spiral into endless edits and endless polishing.
Strategies to Overcome Perfectionism:
Practice making crappy creations. Practice makes progress, and in this case it can help chip away at this barrier to creativity. Literally by throwing creativity at the problem we can build a pile of crappy art of confidence to simply climb over the wall. The more comfortable we get with creating, sharing and letting our art go out into the world, declaring it finished before we hoard it away in our creation caves, the better we can arm ourselves to dismantle the barrier and re-write the narratives of perfectionism.
Taking pride in our ability to accomplish and complete the project instead of in the outside attention to the finished product. By being actively more present in the process we can take our encouragement from the act of creating and the joy it brings us. Taking the power of the forces beyond our control away and putting it back into our own hands, the hands of the creators and artists, we can regain control of our inner voice telling us we are not enough and change that inner dialogue to encourage trial by fire and create with all we have.
Face the fear. Take a piece of work you are in the middle of and share it with someone you trust. Build up your tolerance to share your precious creations and allow them to breathe new life, to be appreciated by someone else. This can make it easier to let go of the fear of failure and understand that being perfect is impossible, but being ourselves, sharing our souls, is the real goal of our creativity and that vulnerability is the scary part, but that is also the most sacred part of the entire process.