I have written before about the value of taking small, practical steps towards a goal and about being prepared to feel disconcerted, if not downright frightened, when you begin to trudge the route from your current position to where you want to be.
Today, I write about how my perfectionism has been a hulking great obstacle to the expression of my authentic self and its creative capacity.
As Brene Brown points out in her book, “The Power of Vulnerability”, the possibility of failure is inherent in any creative project. You can’t innovate if you need a guarantee that your new ideas will be fabulously successful.
In my day job, I am sometimes paralysed by the compulsion to do things perfectly. Give me a slightly challenging task with a deadline and I will overcomplicate it, obsess over where to start, worry about what to do next and whether what I’ve done so far is good enough to warrant taking the project any further. On and on, my mind will go, getting in the way of doing the job at all.
The latest example is this very post: I knew I wanted to write about the tension between being brave enough to risk failure and holding desperately to the desire to perform perfectly in all things, at all times.
Ironically, the fact that I wanted to convey my thoughts about the topic clearly has delayed me writing the thing at all for more than a week now.
Intellectually, I know what is going on. Perfectionism is widely understood to feed into procrastination because of the running mental dialogue that what you are about to do won’t be good enough.
I counsel my perfectionistic friends to adopt the mantra that good enough is nearly always good enough. I dig deep to find the courage to prove to myself that making an error will not bring on the apocalypse or cause people to write me off as an incompetent pretender. I have left typos and grammatical errors in blog posts and, despite the slightly sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time they come to mind, you’re all still here reading what I am putting out there. (Aren’t you?)
The one activity in which my perfectionism doesn’t seem to get in the way is in the field of artistic endeavour. It’s not that I am an undiscovered master whose work will ever grace the walls of an art gallery, but I do enjoy the feeling of giving free rein to the creative urge that wants to be brought to life right now. I get such a kick out of putting aside the analytical mind I usually operate from, and giving in to a more instinctive way of operating in order to turn an idea into something concrete in the world.
To me, the object of art is to invoke emotion or an original thought in the mind of the person interacting with the artwork. More valuable still is art that prompts the observer to examine their previously unexamined opinions.
Longing to create something real and new, and to overcome the belief that art is about seeing, I recently procured a pack of air-drying clay and a tube of camouflage-green paint.
I thought about the comfort I felt when my Dad held my hand during visits to my sick-bed, and moulded the clay into the shape of a hand which could embrace mine. Apparently, the result is mildly horrifying to look at, but I didn’t care. In fact, that is the reason for painting it camouflage green: it isn’t meant to be seen.
It is meant to be a reminder that human comfort is always there just waiting for me to reach out for it and that non-visual, sensory ways of appreciating and understanding are just as valid as the visual
This attitude of being satisfied with a product that achieves what I set out to achieve in one respect, even if it is hopelessly flawed in other respects, is the antithesis of my old perfectionistic mindset. I take comfort in the possibility that my preparedness to brave the criticism and misunderstanding of others in order to be true to my creative instinct is proof positive that I am well on my way to overcoming my perfectionism and to cultivating a courageous heart.