“…addiction to perfection…” The words popped off the page and struck a nerve. Before I could read any further, some thoughts tumbled from my mind and onto the paper. I am, after all, a recovering perfectionist. I have a few things to say about the topic.
So what’s so bad about perfection?
I’ll tell you what! It’s stops you dead in your tracks from even trying beyond the first discouragement. Like many others, I grew up under that old saying “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” Well, darn! That meant if I took up anything, from planning to painting to poetry, then I better do it well. Someone forgot about the learning curve, the mistakes, the false starts, and the really stinking efforts. For some reason I absorbed the limiting idea that once I became interested in something, I better be good at it or I might as well forget it. I better become an expert. Otherwise, it was a waste of my time and not worth doing.
Yes, there was that wasting time thing. That over-arching question: But what’s it good for?
Then why do it?
Because I want to. Because I enjoy it. Does it really have to be good for something?
Well, aren’t you just wasting time when you could be doing something important? Something you could get good at, something you could become an expert at or something that would be a contribution to the world?
That’s addiction to perfection. Beating ourselves up because our efforts aren’t perfect, or even good. In fact, they may be perfectly amateurish. Amateurish. We ALL start out as amateurs: walking, running, skipping, writing our names, learning to add, playing the flute. But at some point, often TOO early in the process, our efforts become “amateurish” and we judge ourselves harshly.
But think about these words from Hafiz:
between a good artist
and a great one is:
The novice will often lay down his tool or brush
Then pick up an invisible club
on the mind’s table
and helplessly smash the easels and Jade.
Whereas the vintage man
no longer hurts himself or anyone
and keeps on sculpting Light.
I did that! I often picked up the club too soon. I had to excel in anything and everything I tried, and often did not allow myself the learning and failing and inching forward. That is a path that lacks JOY! If you’re addicted to perfection, all you see in your efforts are the imperfections. Nothing truly satisfies. Nothing can be celebrated just for the sheer joy of doing it.
In our uncertainty and fear, we often look to others for validation, allowing them to judge our efforts, and believing what they say! I’m a member of a beginning water coloring site on Facebook, and I’m continually struck by the number of people who tell stories of being put down by friends and family members. They became very discouraged when they showed their painting to a (friend, spouse, mother, cousin) and were told (something judgmental). PEOPLE! Quit it! If you enjoy it, do it! Allow yourself to enjoy the learning, the process, the getting messy. I loved a recent response by someone answering a member who had been put down: BE BRAVE ENOUGH TO BE A TRUE BEGINNER AND BE TERRIBLE!
As adults we get used to being competent, she said, and we forget what it’s like to be a beginner.
It’s not easy remembering how to be a beginner, getting over the fear of failure, getting over perfectionism. I began by reciting a mantra given to me by another recovering perfectionist: Anything worth doing is worth doing.
Period. The end. So be it. Amen.
Just try it, Mikey, you might like it.
It took repeating and remembering and trying and being ok with amateur status. I’m not totally there, yet. I’m not a PERFECT learner.
Perfectionism still pops out and bites my Achilles heel more often than I’d like. A few years ago, a friend and I were accepted into a juried art show. Unbelievable! I couldn’t contain my surprise nor my joy. I was ecstatic! I joked to my family that I could now call myself an artist. The euphoria lasted only until I visited an art museum. How dare I call myself an artist! Who in the world was I kidding? That insidious perfectionism once again fought for control. Who do you think you are? Amateurish, don’t you think? Perfectionism has a nasty habit of looking around the room to find the most competent master to compare ourselves against.
You know what? It’s a sad world where only accomplished artists can paint, and only accomplished poets can write, and only accomplished dancers can dance. I’m trying very hard to own my learning, to accept the understanding that I will never be Rembrandt or even the woman across town who is an amazing pastel artist. But, “I am an artist,” I whisper ever so quietly to myself. I may be in kindergarten with my art. But I love experimenting, and I am an artist. Thank you. Thank you very much. Oooooh, that feels naked. Please don’t laugh. Down deep, I’m still a recovering perfectionist.
Another lesson on perfection came from a friend who claimed to be perfect. She did! When people asked how she was, she would always say, “I’m just about perfect in every way!” The first time I heard it, I was speechless. How dare she say that?! She was FAR from perfect. Just let me start. I could point out a thing or two, show her how wrong she was. She had flaws. She was smart, but sometimes, like the rest of us, she would say stupid things like she was perfect in every way. Not just good, but perfect! Indeed!
Somehow her sense of self-confidence, her matter-of-fact way of saying “just about perfect in every way” and the twinkle in her eyes made me see things through a different lens. She was no different from any of us, and she was, actually, just about perfect in every way. I tried it on for size. It stuck in my throat. I’m just about, just about, oh, I’m fine, thanks for asking.
Eventually I got the hang of it. I took it up as a calling for a while. I loved the reactions! Surprised, horrified, amused. I’m just about perfect in every way.
So is this day.
So is this clay pot that turned out so bad I will crush it and send it back to Mother Earth.
And so are you. YOU are just about perfect in every way!
Go ahead and fail at learning something new.