Perfectionism is a creative killer, but it doesn't have to be
Perfectionism is a secret killer.
A secret joy killer, creativity killer and creative life killer.
I say that as a "recovering perfectionist".
Some people know they are perfectionists. They'll say "Oh, I'm such a perfectionist, so I'm not happy with ...... yet".
But then, there are loads of us, who don't know we are perfectionists. We just quit. Or criticize ourselves ruthlessly. Or don't even try. Because our expectations are unrealistic.
Until I trained as a Kaizen-Muse Creativity Coach, I had no idea I was a perfectionist. I thought you had to have perfect appearance, like perfect nails, hair and make up, and be into stylish clothes.
I thought your home had to be perfect and always clean, with matching colors and designer furniture. Which is BIG here in Denmark.
I thought perfectionists had control of every aspect of their lives. .
And that's clearly not me!
My nails are short and messy, I hardly wear make up, my clothes are often covered in food and bits from the kids at work, and my home is pretty messy. Hello! I have 3 kids, and I choose to spend my time creating, rather than tidy up after them all the time. And anyway, they have to tidy up after themselves.
So as you can see, I'm definitely not a perfectionist.
I'm a raving perfectionist. (Is that even an expression?)
I expect a really high standard of myself. Not succeeding at whatever I try, is not an option. It's like some bossy boss is holding me accountable in my head: succeed, or else.....!
Everyone else can look silly, make mistakes and fail. That's totally fine. Just not me.
Writing it out like this, I can see how silly it sounds, and luckily, I have a sense of humor. But it's an exhausting way to live.
Maybe you recognize yourself in some of the following situations.
What is perfectionism?
You attach your self-worth to the quality and the success of your work. And not to who you are.
You make excuses to sabotage yourself, because your standards are unrealistic.
Maybe you are being held "prisoner" by your feelings of being judged by others.
You are forever self-evaluating.
You have little, or no joy in your process, because of the pressure, judgement, comparison and harsh negative thinking, that comes from yourself.
And even when you get praise, or someone likes your work, you still don't feel joy. Because you don't feel good enough. (This one, in particular breaks my heart.)
You only see what is wrong, and completely ignore what is right, and good.
You think there is only 1 right way of doing things. And it's usually yours.
You can't stand being bad at something, even as a beginner. So you give up quickly, or you convince yourself and others, that this is stupid. You don't stick around long enough to learn and get better.
You hate making mistakes, because hey, you're not meant to! Everyone else is, but not you.
Argh! It's not a very nice way to live every day, is it?
There may be more I could add to that list, but I'm sure you see a pattern:
Completely and utterly unrealistic expectations to yourself.
Why do we feel this way?
It's crazy rally, that we go about our daily lives, having such low thoughts and negative feelings about ourselves.
I love this quote by Ken Robinson:
"We think as we do because we feel as we do"
I'm a firm believer in doing inner work. I believe that life is about being me, and finding out what makes me ME. And doing the work to be the best, kindest, wisest, quirkiest, funniest, and happiest me I can be. And I believe that is the same for you and for all of us.
I'm convinced that no amount of nice clothes, cars, relationships, or houses can make us happy, if we feel terrible inside.
This I know to be true for myself. And no amount of business success will feel great, if you're not feeling worthy, not feeling good enough on the inside.
Why we have these thoughts and feelings about ourselves, that creates this unrealistic behavior, can have many reasons.
Our childhood and the environment we grew up in, plays a large part. And that doesn't have to be a bad childhood at all. It usually isn't, actually. It's just lack of knowledge.
I also think we can make it worse ourselves, if we're not aware of our perfectionist tendencies.
How to work through perfectionism?
It will take practice. I won't lie to you.
You will have to practice at not letting perfectionism kill your creativity.
But I have some gentle practices for you, that will help take a little pressure off yourself.
If you have recognized yourself, in some of the ways perfectionism can show up, then you have created an awareness.
Awareness is huge. Simply being aware that you're engaging in perfectionist behavior next time you create, can be the difference between stopping and giving it a try.
Reality check your expectations. Can you really expect to be perfect?
Perfection doesn't exist. There is no such thing. It's a fantasy word. Do you know 1 person whose life is 100% perfect?
In fact, what connects us a humans, are our imperfections.
Learn to give yourself credit. I invite you to set a timer for 2 minutes, and write everything you've done in your life.
Ready, set, go!
I bet you've done more than you give yourself credit for. :-)
Practice imagining being comfortable with success.
What would that feel like? To feel comfortable AND successful?
Go for "good enough"
When you find yourself obsessing over details, or stressing over getting something perfect, practice saying, "ok, it's just good enough".
Do purposely bad.
Give yourself permission to do bad art, bad writing, make bad decisions. It's incredibly freeing to just create really badly. Just because.... It's not meant to go viral around the world, it's not meant to be the next big discovery, it's just meant to be what it is: really bad.
This practice is not easy for me, but I do actually really enjoy it. It's like, I'm being given a break from myself. Weird, but freeing. You should try it. :-)
Give yourself permission to relax. No stress, no panic. Just relax. It's ok.
So, it's like this
You are really not alone in having unrealistic expectations of yourself. It's almost like a human condition. You are normal, there is nothing abnormal about you.
The thing is though, not to let perfectionism stop you from spending time creating.
And not because of everyone else.
But because creating is good for you.
I truly hope you find some value in this post.
Please don't beat yourself up, for beating yourself up. That's not the point.
I'm guessing you're a lovely person, doing the best you can, with the knowledge you have.
A little more self-compassion and self-love is something we can all use.