Raise your hand if you are a recovering perfectionist. There are a lot of us out there, and much like quitting anything addictive- like smoking, or eating too much fast food- it’s a damn hard habit to break.
Let me paint a picture for you: You sit down at your desk on Monday. You’re all fired up about a great new idea you had over the weekend. This is going to be great- That perfect idea that’s going to get you featured on your favorite blog. The piece that will finally put you on etsy’s landing page. A brilliant new series for your blog that will skyrocket your readership. Oh boy, there’s already a lot of expectation on this hot new idea.
You start by finding the perfect inspiration swipe. Four hours later you have a pinterest board overflowing with amazing images. You have so much inspiration, this new idea can’t not be good! Except that, if you’re anything like me, those four hours were an excuse to procrastinate instead of actually sitting down and doing work. You just succumbed to resistance my friend. And resistance is a tricky little devil. He will thwart you at every turn- keeping you from doing the work you were actually MEANT to do.
So now you are overflowing with inspiration. Now it’s time to really get some work done. Say your great new idea involves a sunset. You look through your pin board. You have countless images of sunsets- photographs, illustrations, abstract, realistic. You want the sunset you paint/design/illustrate to be perfect, so you’ve covered every example. You love them all. You want to use them all as a jumping off point. It will be abstract, but with some realistic collage elements, and quirky colors, and don’t forget that perfect shade of orange you found! Oh- and how about that hand drawn texture too. You love designs with hand drawn texture. And stamping, yes! There must be stamping!
You spend the next day struggling to incorporate every single piece of inspiration. Oh it’s hard! You can’t quite figure out how to fit it all in. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Self doubt creeps in. How does everyone else make it look so easy? I’m no good. I was stupid for thinking I could paint/design/illustrate the best sunrise ever. End of project.
Oh man, that sucks. Or maybe you don’t get hung up with inspiration overload, but because you have no deadline, you do endless versions and revisions. You tweak, and tweak, and tweak and tweak. It just never seems done. You put it on the back burner, hoping that when you come back to it, the clouds will have parted and you’ll know exactly what was missing. But you never seem to get back to it and your new baby languishes, tucked away in the corner of your studio or buried in your documents folder for eternity. Occasionally, it will rear it’s head to fill you with feelings of guilt and failure because the momentum you had for it at the beginning is long gone and you know it will never get finished now.
Or maybe, you didn’t even get this far because you put your great idea on the back burner from the get go because to really make it perfect you needed to find the perfect time to work on it. But that perfect time never seems to materialize.
Any of this sound familiar? I’m guilty of all of it. Actually more. My perfectionism married resistance a long time ago, and that dynamic duo tries it’s best to shut down almost every single new idea I have.
I was first introduced to my nasty relationship with perfectionism in the 7th grade. My enlightened art teacher Mr. Childers, recognized it in me and pointed out that trying to create the perfect assignment was never going to do me any favors. Hard work, and practice would, because over time, with enough of both, technique and style is developed and that is what makes us great at what we do. How I wish my little 7th grade brain could have fully absorbed that sage advice. It would have saved me a lot of grief.
My new motto? Progress, not perfection. If we continue to practice our craft, avoid resistance, and work hard, we will, inevitably, create good work. And sometimes we will even create great work, magical work, trans-formative work, work that surprises us. We learn more. We hone in. We refine. Each new project, even if it isn’t better than the last, is an evolution. A chance to learn. A chance to take a risk. A chance to experiment and play. This is the space where the magical accidents happens. Where true creativity lies. When we show up every day and put the time in, THIS is what can’t not happen. If you practice every day, you will, without fail, get better at what you do. Conversely, perfectionism will stop you in your tracks. Because there is no definitive version of perfect. And when we are unable to reach that unattainable goal, we give up. Overwhelmed with feelings of failure.
“But being perfect is the only way to be the best at what I do!” Well, I challenge that notion. You have perfectionism in your nature for crying out loud. Of course you’re not going to put anything out into the world that isn’t great. The true skill of a recovering perfectionist is learning how to recognize resistance. To discern when you’re using perfectionism to procrastinate or self sabotage vs being detail oriented while using an editing eye and good taste to make things the best that you are able.
Now it’s your turn. Are you a perfectionist? Have you ever felt it got in the way of creating something great? Of keeping you in a space of dreaming of doing something vs actually doing it? I’d love to hear below!