Perfectionism – The Enemy of Creative Joy

No idea when the belief that I needed to be perfect lodged itself into my developing mind. Perfectionism masquerades as a virtue, we wear our ability to obsess and control like a badge of honour when in reality it’s a serious condition. Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and a happily lived life.

I wouldn’t say I was a hardcore perfectionist but it’s definitely been woven though everything I’ve tried to do since I was a kid, leaving me feeling like I’m never good enough. The schooling system we’re put through has a lot to answer for, it literally pits us against each other, relentlessly grading us year on year from infancy. We come to know ourselves only through the lens of our perceived intelligence which is based on a supremely flawed system.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid….’

Said Einstein apparently. And he knew some stuff. Depending on the amount of encouragement and praise we received at home can have a major impact on whether we give ourselves space now to make mistakes, be imperfect, support and cheer ourselves on when we stumble and fall.

We expect too much from ourselves, leaving little room for exploration and play. We expect ourselves to be expert masters at things we’ve barely studied or practised. We set unrealistic standards and spend little time truly reflecting on our progress and development. We could do with more self awareness, self compassion, relaxation and permission to let go, play, have fun, enjoy. Imagine that. Perfectionism be gone. It serves no one but the little commander within who believes they warrant no love, admiration or respect unless what they put down is beyond good – it’s hyper perfect. Which as we know is subjective anyway, my perfection is your dogshit. What we deem perfect today will shift and change next year. It’s a moving target that’s never actualised leaving us frustrated, never able to truly rest in contentment and satisfaction at what we’ve created or achieved.

We each have an internal critic, judge and saboteur. One of the many reasons following a  creative path is so challenging is that these aspects of ourselves are given ample space to run rough shod over our efforts. Expecting our work to be perfect will stifle the flow of creativity immediately. Take writing, many a talented closet writer wonders around the world never giving themselves permission to explore the craft because they won’t let themselves get past the first line. The only possible way I’ve been able to get beyond it myself is I literally give myself permission to be shit. That’s it. I don’t expect my offerings to be Pulitzer prize standard anymore. I do my best to notice when I’m judging my writing or anything I do, when I’m comparing myself to others and almost always finding myself inadequate. See it, accept it as illusion, let it go. Repeat.

Practising awareness and self compassion is a powerful way to release debilitatingly high standards and feelings of not enough-ness. If we’re to allow ourselves to be artists and create (as each of us was born to), free of concepts of failure and not good enough, experiencing the joy of play and connection, we gotta let go the judgement and absurd perfectionism.

The World needs more people pouring their heart and soul into what they love, willing to fall and make a fool of themselves, making art that speaks about what it is to be Human, so we can, as one Human family come together and know we’re never alone.

So ta-ta perfectionism, you’ve had your day but it’s time to embrace messy realism and the truth of our Human experience. Rawness, realness, sometimes a bit fucked up and ridiculous. This is Life and Art ought always to reflect that.