He’s busy inside your mind, squirreling away on a treadmill that never ceases. “Again!” he cries, never satisfied. “Better!” he urges, and you comply, re-working that sentence, re-painting that corner.
He is Mr. Perfect, and if he rules you, your creativity is at high risk. Your perfectionism gremlin is actually not helping you – he’s draining your creative vitality.
Mr. Perfect is a sneaky gremlin. He has you convinced that perfectionism is a good thing, that re-working something endlessly means you have integrity and high artistic standards.
The problem is, more often than not, Mr. Perfect grinds away at you for so long that you end up never completing that draft or that sculpture. Because it’s never perfect, you never feel satisfied and you don’t advance your creative career.
Mr. Perfect tries to dominate my clients’ creative process. They proudly and sheepishly proclaim that they are perfectionists, sensing Mr. Perfect isn’t good for them, but feeling unable to escape his grip.
Why do we labor under this illusion of an attainable perfection?
- It’s easier to keep working on something than to brave the (potentially negative) response of the world.
- It’s easier to belabor something than to accept the natural cycle of creativity, which is more about ebb and flow than peck, peck, peck.
- We do hold high standards; we just didn’t know when to stop accept enough is enough. We mistake perfection for quality.
Pause for a moment and reflect on this statement: There is no such thing as perfect.
Perfection doesn’t exist. People aren’t perfect. Perfection as an external ideal simply isn’t real. Mr. Perfect is a BS machine – and he’s holding you back.
Perfection – a sense of rightness, a crystallization of energy, a confluence of elements – is merely a subjective opinion. When we work toward perfection as some outside ideal, we strive and strive and never arrive. We’re trying to please someone else – a dealer, and editor, an audience, or, truth be told, our parents.
Free yourself from Mr. Perfect’s dominance
How to escape the tyranny of Mr. Perfect? Try these practices to release yourself from an unattainable standard.
First, admit you are under the thumb of Mr. Perfect. Admit that his relentless treadmill is driving you, and it’s not taking you anywhere you want to go.
Second, identify your standards. Ratcheting down from perfect doesn’t mean you don’t have criteria for good work. Get clear on what is acceptable work for you. What’s ‘good enough’?
Third, develop your criteria for what works in a piece. Get clear on the felt or perceived sense of when a piece is complete. Use criteria that reflects both the demands and standards of your genre and your own inner compass, that feeling that indicates satisfaction.
Write these critera down, distill them in a mantra, and keep them nearby for when you find yourself gerbil wheeling again and again over the same sentence, brush stroke or line.
External commitments can help. When I first began publishing my newsletter, it was terrifying to complete an article and press ‘send’. But I’d developed a publishing schedule, and I was more committed to honoring that than to hiding my work in the safety and privacy of my office.
My clients feel immense relief when they give themselves permission to liberate themselves from the tyranny of Mr. Perfect. With clear – and attainable – standards for excellence, they feel free to enjoy their art, instead of being held hostage by impossible demands.
How do you hold high standards that don’t choke you? How willing are you to release yourself from Mr. Perfect? Share your triumphs over your own Mr. Perfect.
Other exercises to liberate your creativity await you in my upcoming Make Writing a Happy Habit class, May 16 – June 24, 2011. Join bloggers, artists and writers to let of perfect to embrace happy.
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