Today is Day 2 of a 31 Days of Video Challenge that I am doing. I’m posting the videos to Youtube and sharing them here on my website as well.
In today’s video, I share how my perfectionist tendencies creatively immobilized me in my life (weeeeee!), how I grew beyond that perfectionism and what I have found on the other side of it.
I’m including here the written version of the video topic, which I wrote out as I gathered and prepared my thoughts for recording. I’ve added some here and there to help elaborate and clarify various points.
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Life is not a story to be told in one telling, a movie that must be flawlessly played out in one long, continuous take.
It is not, nor is it ever, the finished product, the perfect act. It is an ongoing experiment and you can never get it just right, and you’ll never quite finish, because there are endless things to figure out, infinite ways to live, explore, create, become.
“It is better to create an imperfect something, than a perfect nothing.”
– Steve Pavlina
I love this quote by Steve Pavlina. It is a very compelling concept to me, particularly because, for most of my life, I was so afraid of not making a perfect something that I pretty much made nothing.
I think perfectionism manifests differently for different people. For some, it’s obsessively perfecting every task, such as folding towels with immaculate precision. For others, like me, it’s setting up a super high bar to reach for and then expecting to be able to grab it in one go, rather than getting to it in baby steps, though experimentation and allowing for trial and error.
A creative child growing up, I always making arts and crafts with whatever was on hand (I once made a Christmas ornament out of an empty toilet paper roll). I got my first diary at age 7, and discovered I loved writing; I had several of them filled in by the time I discovered Diary of a Young Girl as an adolescent.
I would like to say that Anne Frank had nothing but positive impact on me, but that wasn’t the case. When I read her diary, I was blown away by how, inadvertently through her own personal, private words, Anne was able to inspire and influence millions.
The idea immediately and detrimentally got stuck in my head that someone might one day find and publish my own journals. It’s silly in retrospect, but that’s what I took out of it. The prospect was exciting, yet incredibly daunting. I now had to write something worthy of being read by millions of people.
As a result, my private thoughts and feelings were edited, censored, restrained. I would get a new diary and tear out page after page, convinced the beginning was not good enough. I stopped being able to finish them, too. Afraid of not living up to the high expectation I had for my “book”, I developed writer’s block that kept up for over a decade.
In college, I agonized over every essay. Although I got excellent grades, I was never satisfied with what I made. I struggled to develop my creative ideas, and the ones I did have were disappointing to me when I tried to execute them. Nothing could match up to the ideals in my head.
Finally, in an act of desperate self-liberation, I threw away most all of my old journals: a symbolic act to end the cycle of creative internment I was stuck in. Tired of carrying that weight around with me, I needed a fresh beginning.
Around that time, I started a blog, which for me was a tremendously brave act. The process was very uncomfortable and I had a hard time getting things out. It took a couple years yet, but eventually my voice began to flow again. I wrote more articles online and I filled five journals in rapid succession.
I don’t blame Anne Frank’s diary for the results of my misguided interpretation of it. I very well could have had the perfectionist bent laying dormant in my personality and reading her diary it just came out as it would have inevitably done.
Perfectionism certainly reared its ugly head in other ways in my life…
Despite some rough going in my teens, I was still drawn to creativity, personal expression, and making some kind of impact in the world; nearing high school graduation I considered various career paths that might be a match for me such as journalism, fashion design, and psychology. It came down to filmmaking. I loved movies and it seemed to encompass everything I thought I might like to do; I could write screenplays, design costumes, and certainly work with a wide array of interesting people.
The desire to do something prolific in the world took on new form when I discovered that no woman had as yet won an Academy Award for Best Director. The vision of being the first took possession of me.
I earned an AA degree in TV & Film Production, meanwhile interning with a production company and volunteering for film festivals and movie projects. Back of everything was this burning passion to be the pioneering woman director who broke through the proverbial glass ceiling of the movie industry.
Even though on the outside it would seem I was making some kind of effort or progress toward my dream, the reality is that I was going nowhere. I created a few projects in school that barely came together in my eyes. Outside of school, I started and stopped several projects, lacking the confidence to do my creative visions justice.
Finally, at the 2010 Oscars, director Kathryn Bigelow was nominated for the prestigious award I so coveted. Just before the winner was announced, I sat on the edge of my seat in the living room, breathless, heart pounding. The thought that went through my head is, “If she wins, my life beings.”
Thankfully, she did win. And I was finally released from my burden of achieving that dream. I could refocus on my more practical goal of becoming a director-producer-screenwriter triple threat with my own production company. 😉
That didn’t exactly pan out. But that story’s for another day! 🙂
“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
So, I’m sharing these two stories – of my writer’s block and the Academy Award I never won – in the hopes that you might relate to my experiences in some way and reflect upon your own.
Are you holding yourself back? Are you too afraid of falling short of your greatest potential that you never try? What can you do to change that and move forward?
With the writer’s block, I finally became so fed up with it that I dragged myself out of captivity. With the Oscar award, circumstances at long last took the dream out of my hands; turns out they were tied to it!
Both of these situations led me to the gradual realization that I was holding my own creative voice hostage within me. I was overprotective of her potential. I was overcritical of anything she did manage to attempt. It was a vicious cycle that had to end or I would smother that part of me and she would die inside, never having lived.
From someone who has been there, I want you perfectionists out there to consider that perfection lies in the act of creating, not in the thing we create. Let the process, not the outcome, be your focus. Allow yourself to take the necessary baby steps that could, maybe, get you there to the level of quality and achievement you desire.
Please, don’t stifle yourself because you think you have to get everything just right. It is OK to make something and say, “Good enough.” You won’t get anywhere if you don’t take a step and let yourself, as they say, “Fail forward”.
Don’t be so timid in the actions you take. Get out there and DO something! Try something. Experiment. Test-runs are your friend. Mistakes are healthy and should be welcome.
As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that there is hope and there is light on the other side of perfection-striving. There is a whole world of possibility waiting for one with the courage to be imperfect. When I finally let go of the perfection I was trying to live up to, I started to actually live.
It felt so good to open up to the world, to respond to the call within me to create, to let go of the fear and embrace the joy and relief of being real and messy and imperfect. With this video challenge, I’m leaning into it even more. It’s scary, but it’s awesome! I feel more full and whole.
I have finally relaxed within myself.
I feel free.
Beyond perfectionism, there is so much freedom. Freedom to be yourself, naturally, easily. Freedom to share your truth. Freedom to discover who you really are and what you can do.
Beyond perfectionism is the freedom to LIVE. Not someday but today.
Here and now.
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Perfectionism and Being Judged
Overcoming Perfectionism by Steve Pavlina