Side-Stepping the Perfectionism Parrot
“Perfection is the enemy of good,’ said Voltaire. I can’t tell you how often I’ve stared at the blank screen or the empty page – into the silence of the unknown – and actually felt butterflies in my stomach at the thought that I might be about to create total c**p!
Letting Go of Expectations
In her book, ‘Bird by Bird’, Anne Lamott talks about how perfectionism can kill creativity. She says:
In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later.
I keep this quote in my head whenever I sit to write or to do any task, plan an event, plant a seed. (I have said ‘shitty first draft’ to myself several times even while writing this blog post!)
Will I do it all wrong? Will anyone even read this? Is this good enough? The only way to know is to plough on, to acknowledge the doubts, thank them for their well-meaning presence, take a step to the side, let them go. And keep going.
Ultimately all we can be certain of is right here and right now – the first word on the page, the first stitch on the hook, the first splash of colour on the canvas, the first note in our throat, the first cast of the line. Nothing else matters. Letting go of expectations of a finished product and focussing on this one and only moment of creation is liberating. Letting go can also open our eyes and our minds to noticing what might be going on beyond us.
‘Mistakes’ can bring gifts. Take this image, for instance.
I was struggling with my inexperience (and quite frankly my limited artistic ability) while trying to produce a lino-print. It wasn’t going well. I’m just not good enough! I could see that my exasperation was stifling my connection to the inner child that simply exists to see what happens if I do this…or this….or this. I took three breaths and closed my eyes. Opening my eyes again I saw that a strand of my hair, ink laden, had fallen on my page. What looks (to me, anyway!) like a bird on a blossom branch is actually the result of my desperate attempt to remove the hair from the page. A mistake. But a really satisfying and potentially beautiful mistake, complete with my own fingerprint and DNA! Now, I know my little bird will never make it to the hallowed halls of the Royal Academy or local art gallery. But letting go of the pursuit of perfection freed my mind and opened it to the existence of other possibilities.
Impermanence and Authenticity
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese ethos that honours imperfection and, something that often emerges from the acceptance of imperfection – authenticity. In Wabi-Sabi Simple, Richard Powell states:
Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
The idea that ‘nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect’ does not necessarily mean that we have to abandon crafting our creations, playing with them, rearranging lines, removing words, adding a shadow: making it the best possible creation we can. But it does allow us to sidestep Mr Perfection Parrot on our shoulder – the one that tells us over and over that we are not good enough before we even start, the one that stops us taking that first step into the glorious, amazing and beautifully scary unknown.
Until next time, my friends. Go well.
Take three breaths.
Ask yourself three things:
- Is my fear that this [painting, essay, presentation…] is not going to perfect protecting me from an imagined failure?
- Does striving for perfection ever prevent me from creating something ‘good’, something authentic?
- Have I ever had the experience of something good emerging from a so-called ‘mistake’.
Take another three breaths.
Say to yourself: this one breath, this one [word , brush stroke, line, note, seed…] and make the mark, voice the sound, plant the seed.