“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it's just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more that a deep existential angst that says, again and again, 'I'm not good enough and I will never be good enough.'”
Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic)
Yesterday, I wrote about creativity. Today, I want to talk about what stops people from being creative. Perfectionism. I can speak about this subject from personal experience because in my head there is a voice that says, “Who do you think you are? You can't do that!” Many people will recognize that voice. It is the one that short circuits our ideas and aborts them before they are viable. Carl Jung called it the “Saboteur.” Sometimes, we've had a parent who tried to keep us under control with that voice, or perhaps, a teacher who embarrassed us when we made mistakes. Whoever initiated the Saboteur's voice, it now belongs to us. We have internalized its message.
The feeling of not being good enough is probably the most universal fear of all. Were we to poll a hundred people about what they fear, the response would almost always be associated with humiliation—with the shame one feels when they do something mediocre, not perfect. This seems especially true of first-born children; the standard-bearer of the family; the one who is supposed to excel at everything and fail at nothing. Perfection does not exist in the real world of human beings, and yet, it is what we expect of ourselves, whether implicitly or explicitly. We are afraid of failing, so we don't try. We start, but don't finish. When we aren't great at something, we too often turn that Saboteur voice on ourselves, “I told you you were a loser.”
Perfectionism is a killer of brilliant ideas, of unconventional solutions. It limits our options. It boxes us in, and keeps us from expressing all of who we are. We are commanded to “strive for perfection” when we should be commanded to strive for enjoyment. If you love something, and enjoy doing it, that's enough. If you do something you love, and don't let the fear of imperfection get in the way, you will become better and better at it over time.
Today, don't let perfectionism get in the way of creativity. Have fun, make mistakes, try again. Learn to laugh at yourself a little. Don't give up. You're good enough and you always will be.
In the Spirit,