[P]erfectionism is the ultimate creativity killer. Its roots, to name a few, are fear, insecurity, control, and shame that walks a thread-bare tightrope between the chasms of avoiding pain and fear of rejection. Perfectionism stalls projects. It divides people and creative teams. It increases tentativeness, uncertainty, and doubt. I said it’s a creativity killer, didn’t I?
Perfectionism stands in stark contrast to artistic excellence, integrity and wholeness. Not only has it stifled kid’s creativity, creative freedom in many careers and the joy that comes with creating, it also creates heartache in many companies, friendships, marriages, and raising children. At it’s worst, perfectionism is not only the ultimate creativity killer. It is also the ultimate relationship killer. Read on…
Whether you are an artist, athlete, mother, company owner, or college student, just like the picture says, “If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get started.”
Perfectionism comes in all shapes and sizes before, during, and at the end of any endeavor. I call her “Queen Perfection” and she’s a nasty little despot. Queen Perfection can strut in with her little tut-tuts…
Before You Create
Before you begin writing that book, picking up your guitar, unleashing your creativity or simply following through on your promise to take your child out on a little date (let alone your spouse!), perfectionism can start it’s sneaky little whisper that sounds like…
“Wait! You can’t start yet…you have to do this_______ (Fill in the blank.)”
“I sent out the book proposal to several publishers. I’m waiting to hear back before I write more…”
“I must clean my desk…water my plants…check Facebook…respond to this email…clean behind the toilets…”
You may simply call these behaviors “Procrastination,” but she’s the evil step-sister of perfectionism. Procrastination is lazy, spoiled and entitled. Certainly not as uptight as Perfectionism, but that’s a whole other subject.
I’m guilty of all of the above and more. Remember, if you and I wait for perfect conditions, we’ll never get started.
As You Create
I would not label myself a perfectionist (that’s pride speaking now), but my perfectionism shows up in a subtle, sneaky way as I’m in the middle of creating. It comes in the form of new ideas, often from stemming from boredom or lack of courage in what I’m currently working on.
Because creating anything of value is hard work, for me, the voice of perfectionism shows up masked in alluring new ideas and the siren songs of new endeavors. Whether I don’t believe I can really create something of value or if I’m seeing all the warts on my current creation (usually my writing), I am tempted to chuck it and start something new. That, my friend, is the sinister voice of “It’s not perfect now and never will be…try this instead…”
Yes, unfinished work can be part of the creative process and a key part of learning, but if we don’t have solid reasons why we’re QUITTING one project in favor of another, then Queen Perfection just may be the ruler of our creative kingdom.
After You Create
When you’re on the cusp of completing your creative endeavor, if you struggle with perfectionism, expect your perfectionism to come against you. Once a work is completed, perfectionism wants to throw you back into weeks, months, even years of getting it just right. All the while, your creative gifts are being withheld from the world. Perfectionism keeps your light under a basket. Your work from seeing the light of day. The world never touching, seeing or hearing what your heart wants them to touch, see, or hear. Perfectionism is the ultimate creativity killer because it is killing your work and the heart that created it.
When a work of art or any creative project is completed, it will stand on its own merits with integrity and wholeness. It will have a certain lightness and flexibility about it versus a stiff rigidness that reflect a perfectionist working too hard to make it appear…what? Perfect.
A work that reflects artistic excellence will project a transcendent Beauty, Truth and Goodness that takes the reader or viewer to a new place of insight, knowledge, appreciation or understanding. Including hefty doses of wonder, awe and gratitude.
3 Steps to Overcoming Perfectionism
If you’re willing to admit that perfectionism is killing your creativity (or maybe a friend you know), what can you do?
1. Admit Your Struggle: Like any other negative character trait, perfectionism thrives in the darkness. Like any alcoholic or addict, admit that you have any unhealthy attachment to perfectionism. Perfectionism is often used to cover deep, unreached feelings of shame, guilt and unworthiness.
Like many other “isms”, perfectionism is developed as a coping strategy to avoid pain and a form of self-salvation to prove our worthiness to others. You can only begin to experience healing and the path to wholeness by admitting the truth of what holds you back.
Remember, you are human. Not perfect or bullet-proof. God loves you as you are. Imperfect. Warts and all. Christ can set you free from the chains of perfectionism.
2. Notice When You Are Most Vulnerable: When does perfectionism tend to show up in your life? At the beginning, middle or end of a creative project? When you’re stressed? Awareness is everything to overcoming any character flaw. Knowing our vulnerabilities can help us during the day as we step back from our work and say, “Okay, that’s enough for today. I made some progress.”
This is where setting goals and completion dates can be helpful as we learn to set boundaries for our work as we learn to keep commitments to ourselves. When you are aware of when you are most vulnerable, that is the time to pray and invite Christ to invade that dark space with his loving presence.
3. Seek Help: If Queen Perfectionism has ruled your creative kingdom for a long time, she’s not going to want to give up her throne. Seeking the help of a professional counselor, pastor or coach can help you get where you want to go. This is one of the reasons I’m now offering Creative Coaching and Mentoring to artists. I want to see more artists and creative teams experience greater freedom in Christ and more creative satisfaction in the work God has given them to do.
Like any work of creation, overcoming perfectionism takes time and involves hard work. But it is essential to cultivating our soul towards wholeness.
Don’t go it alone. That holy longing God created in you and I for perfection is not the same as perfectionism.
What we really want and need is intimacy with God. Perfectionism, like many other tried-and-not-so-true trinket gods, is a cheap substitute that will never satisfy the deepest desires of our heart.
Questions: How does perfectionism show up in your life? What steps have you taken to overcome it?
I’d love your comments and questions.