How to Release Perfectionism

big magic

Have you read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert yet? You really should. I am tearing through it and bookmarking pages that I know I will want to go back to. Elizabeth Gilbert (you recognize that name from the bestselling book Eat Pray Love) writes about how to overcome the fear, anxiety, and struggles that come with living creatively. Whether you are a blogger, a writer, a chef, a painter, a photographer, a musician, or have some other creative profession or hobby, there are times when you feel overcome by the fear of rejection or not being good enough or talented enough that render you almost unable to create. She gives advice on what personally works for her to overcome these hurdles of creative living, and also gives a lot of no-nonsense straightforward analysis on your “excuses” for not fulfilling your creative potential.

The section that I related to the most personally is the analysis of perfectionism. She talks about how many people often view their perfectionism as a good quality. In job interviews you may say that you are a perfectionist in order to highlight that you are detail oriented, have high standards, and only put forth work that you believe to be “perfect.” I found myself kind of nodding along – yes, I do that. I wear my perfectionism almost like a badge of honor. I have extremely high standards for everything I do, which I have always perceived as a good thing.

Gilbert quickly and unapologetically shoots down that idea. She says,

“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.'”

This paragraph jumped out like it had been written specifically for me. Yes, that is exactly how I feel. I have impossibly high standards that I have viewed as a sign of refined taste and exquisite attention to detail, but really it is just fear, plain and simple. Fear that anything I put forth in the world will never be good enough, unless I work on it until it is “perfect.” The problem with this, as we all know, is that perfect is a nonexistent ideal that no one can live up to. So, this view of myself and my creative endeavors is actually setting myself up for failure before I even start.

I know that Gilbert did not write this paragraph specifically for me, so there must be a lot of you out there that feel the same way that I do. So how do we overcome this? I think the answer is to force yourself to put things out there into the world that are obviously not perfect. Don’t analyze everything you do to death, because you will always find flaws. You will always find a reason not to go forward. Let’s make ourselves go forward a bit blindly, without the feeling that our work is perfect, but instead that we did the best we could.

An example of this for myself is this very blog you are reading. I have actually been writing this blog for several years, but I was absolutely terrified to tell anyone about it. I wrote articles that were probably quite good, but I never tried to publicize them. The only people I told about my blog were my parents – not even my friends, boyfriend, etc. My perfectionism in this case was absolutely just a dressed-up version of fear. I used the excuses that I didn’t know what my blog was about yet, or that my website design wasn’t complete yet, or that I wanted to practice creating blog content before I publicized it to the world. Really, I was just terrified that I would look stupid, that my ideas and photos weren’t as good as other bloggers, that my peers would think I was weird for wanting to put things publicly on the internet. That people would think, Who does she think she is, giving people advice? She’s young and naiive and has no idea what she’s even talking about.

Ugh.. how cruel are we to ourselves? Imagine how many wonderful, creative ideas or endeavors would be out there in the world if people didn’t shut themselves down by being so self-critical? Our fears are stopping us from living to our true potential.

So, one day only a few months ago, I decided enough was enough, and I publicized my blog. I put it out there on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., and I started telling my friends and people I met that I have a blog. It wasn’t any more perfect than it ever had been – I am still figuring out my place in the blogging world, my theme as a blogger and who I am trying to attract as readers; I’m still not a photography or web design expert. But I decided it was good enough. Yeah, I am good enough to call myself a blogger. My articles are good enough to put out there for others to read. They are nowhere near perfect, but they never will be.

And you know what happened?

Not much. The world didn’t stop turning. People didn’t start gawking at me and whispering about me when I entered a room. My imperfect blog was out there for anybody to read, and nobody died or freaked out or called me an imposter. Actually, on the contrary, I received such nice compliments and encouragement from a lot of friends, family, and peers. I am so glad that I put it out there, even in its totally imperfect state.

So think about what you can do in your life to crush your perfectionism. Is there a business idea you’ve been contemplating for years but haven’t done because it isn’t perfect yet? Is there a cookbook you’ve been meaning to put together and release into the world, but your chocolate chip cookie recipe just isn’t as good as it could be? Is there an unfinished novel saved on your laptop that you promised you would finish when you had uninterrupted time to contribute to it, or maybe until you had a better idea for it? Whatever it is that you’ve been “perfecting,” just finish it. Finish your novel, finish your business plan, finish your cookie recipe, finish your painting, finish your song, finish creating your blog. And put it out there! Imperfections and all. And you will realize, people may not even notice your so called imperfections. Maybe a few people will, but most people will appreciate the fact that you finished something, and that you put yourself out there. Even if your work sucks (which I’m sure it doesn’t!) just finishing something and showing it to the world deserves props in itself.

I highly encourage that you read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and that you squash whatever fear you have that is keeping you from living the creative life you’re meant to be living. Face that fear of imperfection head on by completely and fully accepting that your work will never be perfect. You will never be perfect. And put forth something that is imperfect on purpose. Take that, perfectionism.

 

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