How Perfectionism Is Killing Your Creativity
Perfectionism and Procrastination
As I was researching this post, I came across an article by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings about writer Anne Lamott and how she feels perfectionism stunts creativity.
Popova summarizes Lamott this way: “At the heart of writing … lies a capacity for quiet grit and a willingness to decondition the all too human tendency to get so overwhelmed by the enormity of the journey that we’re too paralyzed to take the first step.” Doesn’t THAT sound familiar? I feel paralyzed by fear in my art making all the time. Do you?
We are paralyzed by:
- the blank page
- a good beginning
- fear of failure
- fear of success
- our last “failed” art piece
- our last “successful” art piece
- someone else’s talent
- someone else’s critiques
All this stopping makes it hard to start.
To overcome the paralysis that accompanies the fear of not being “perfect” or “good enough,” I take direction from another amazing artist and author, SARK. She talks about making the “micro movements” that lead to creative action – on the first day you take out the scissors, on the next you clear your table, on the third you buy some markers, and perhaps on the fourth, you make a dot somewhere on the page.
Somehow breaking things into little steps makes them feel less intimidating. This is the metaphor at the heart of Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird. She asks us to just show up, begin, and take things one at a time. I value having permission to show up and create something, regardless of the outcome. That’s when I create freely and can often get into that state of “flow,” where I lose track of time, and the art doesn’t need to be “perfect.”
Perfectionism Takes a Toll on Your Self-Esteem
Perfectionism can lead to some really negative thinking: “You aren’t good enough,” “You don’t deserve this,” or “This isn’t ‘art.'” This kind of harsh self-talk is meant to keep you from taking chances, exploring, growing, and getting started on your next creative endeavor.
Artist or not, I see so many people in my office who are dominated by their perfectionism in many areas of their lives. They feel inadequate at school, in their jobs, and with their friends. As a result they feel anxious and lonely. I’m inviting you to talk back to perfectionism, what many artists like to call “the inner critic.”
How One Art Therapist Uses Art to Combat Perfectionism and Fear
One of the first exercises in many of my courses is confronting the inner critic. Art therapist Sarah Kulig, of South Burlington Vermont, took my Art Journaling 101 Online class this winter. When she sent me some photos of her journal pages recently, it was like a lightening bolt hit me in the forehead. Her response to her inner critic is witty, chiding, and completely freeing. I wish I had thought of it.
What would happen if you told off your inner critic? Or told perfectionism to take a hike? Here’s what happened for Sarah:
Isn’t this amazing? I love how she even gives herself permission to be scared – A LOT, and the reassurance of self-love and self-acceptance is beautiful. Sarah, I’m hoping that you will inspire others as much as you’ve inspired me with your courage and wit.
Her art is real. Moving. Emotional. Spiritual. Perfectionism has no place here.
If you are interested in doing some of this work too! Click here to learn more.
Imperfect Art is Moving
Some of my most “imperfect,” inexact, and inaccurate pieces have been the most meaningful. My job is to show up on the page, the canvas, the sewing machine, or to my guitar. My job is to be a vessel, and to allow creation to flow through me. It’s almost like a scrubbing for the soul.
If I’m just a conduit, for the art, I’m not responsible for the art product, whether it’s “good” or “bad.” When I achieve “flow” in art making, it’s a magical adventure. I marvel at what appears, like any other onlooker, because what is emerging is as much a surprise to me as it is to the person looking over my shoulder.
Tell Perfectionism to Get Lost!
My challenge to you is to tell perfectionism to take step aside. It doesn’t matter what form your creativity takes – whether you are an artist, writer, dancer, marketing expert, or cook – you need creativity. Let’s not let perfectionism continue its evil dictatorship. Share in the comments section. Make a poem, a rant, a manifesto, but share it with us.
Click here to learn more about Art Journaling 101, and tell your perfectionism to take a hike like Sarah did.