I am a recovering perfectionist.
I have incredibly high standards when it comes to creating art for myself and critiquing the art of others. I don’t admit it often, but it’s true. I don’t mean to be a nitpicker, but I am.
Yet with each passing day, I am learning how to throw these standards off and watch them disintegrate like rusted shackles so that I can finally be the best version of myself that I was meant to be.
Pleasure and Pain
As a recovering perfectionist, I struggle to stop operating under constant, self-imposed extremes. When writing stories, I must resist aiming to please a non-existent audience so that I may avoid the pain of even a slightly displeased one. When drawing, I must resist gazing upon works light years ahead of mine in terms of skill and berate myself for even having the gall to try making any sort of comparison, let alone attempt at drawing.
I must resist telling myself that it has to be perfect from start to finish. Otherwise, why bother?
The message isn’t always that forthright. It can show up in other ways. Sometimes, it shows up when I practice speaking Japanese and make a mistake. My mind then floods itself with every mistake I’ve ever made when learning the language, and all the memories of being told I was so good at Japanese that it came naturally to me — even being mistaken for someone of Japanese ancestry, I was that good. Other times, it shows up when I’m fussing over which point of view characters to include in my work-in-progress and trying to figure out their stories beforehand. Sometimes, it even shows up physically, when I’m having a particularly bad bout of IBS or anxiety.
It means well. This perfectionism — this crippling anxiety — tries to be a means to protect me.
But its methods are insidious and akin to torture.
But then, I read something that might have finally freed me from Perfectionism’s monstrous hold.
Process Over Product
It was a simple PDF, given out for free. I think I got it after watching one of the webinars its author hosted regarding platform building. Either way, it was a short, yet powerful read.
It’s called The Beginner’s Guide to Building an Audience by Jeff Goins.
While it talks about building an audience for a blog or website, one of the most influential passages for me talked about changing one’s relationship with creativity for the better:
Our work is more than what we do or make. It’s the entirety of effort that goes into each step of the process. In a sense, it’s what we don’t see.
So when you’re sweating and bleeding and loving every minute of it, remember: this is the reward. …
The grind is the reward.
As a recovering perfectionist, I now understand that what was holding me back. I was obsessed with output instead of input. I was so focused on the product being perfect rather than the process of creating said product being fun and exciting. Ironically, while obsessing over creating the perfect book, I’ve probably generated tons of writing scraps that I can still use down the line.
This isn’t to say the process won’t always be easy and fun. One of these days, I might get a cold and want to stay bedridden rather than bang out a climactic battle scene. But that’s not what’s being talked about here.
What’s being talked about here is gratitude.
Peace and Prosperity
Rather than thanking myself for getting good grades in college, I should be thanking myself for all the hard work I did to get those grades.
Rather than worrying about whether my musical compositions or arrangements sound original and fresh, I should thank the musical composition process for bringing me joy with each note I placed on the sheet music.
Rather than being praised for writing a stunning book and being known in history for it, let me thank myself for not giving up, for my fingers that type these very words, the software that makes it possible, the artists that inspire me, the musicians that comfort me, and everyone else in between.
Artists and people alike, I feel, are so worried about being remembered for what they have done, will have done, haven’t done, or won’t have done.
I think it’s time to be remembered for what we’re doing instead.