I had a good day, today. I spent the whole day working on a project I have been too afraid to immerse myself in, for years. What stopped me before was perfectionism – the idea that I shouldn’t even start work on the project, because whatever I produced would never be good enough. The quality bar I designated as “good enough” was entirely of my own making, of course. It has no basis in objective reality.
I was reminded of this, uncannily, by the amazing Jill Badonsky, who tweeted this evening about a writing workshop she recently conducted, where she encountered somebody who claimed they were “no good at this”, when in fact what they produced was brilliant. In Jill’s words, “people’s perfectionistic expectation of their ability to be creative prevents them from trying or not SEEING the beauty of their own unique responses.” So true! I’m also guilty as charged.
I would be lying if I said I’m completely over perfectionism. It’s more like alcoholism, than a condition you can treat with medicines, from which you make a full and permanent recovery. With perfectionism, you’re always prone to relapse. That requires quite a lot of vigilance, so that you can stave it off, before it takes hold, once more. I’ve come to accept that what I make is not perfect. It can’t be. I’m human. It was never meant to be perfect.
What my day taught me was that with a bit of persistence and a willingness to just get on with the work and experiment your way out of situations where you become stuck, you can actually feel genuine, unalloyed, pure, unadulterated joy. That’s the only reason you need to do the one project you think you need to produce perfect results on. You will love the doing.
I don’t mean just feeling a little bit good about yourself, I mean a deep joy that goes all the way to your fingertips and toes, which comes from enjoying what you’ve made, enjoying how you made it and feeling satisfaction that you’ve made some progress. It isn’t even about the finished result and still less about what anybody else thinks of it. The joy comes from doing it.
My project is a big project and I still have much to conquer and learn, but I feel that by taking small, regular bites at it, I can come up with my own unique response to the challenge and make something that, while not perfect, will be well and truly good enough to make me smile. It will be a thing of beauty, if you choose the right definition of beauty. Somebody else is bound to do that.
I started the day with Mike Monday’s Production Game. The Production Game is a video, made daily, which encourages you to get on with making music. Mike’s challenge is to make a video every day (that’s his production). For participants, our challenge is to make progress and learn something, in our music making, every day (that’s our production). I can honestly say that I did that today, after a bad day yesterday, where my motivation and self-confidence were in very short supply. The Production Game is fun.
You only have one life and only so many hours available in which to create something. The actual act of creating, especially if it’s a creation or in an area of art that you care about passionately, will bring you great happiness and a deep sense of well-being. What’s so bad about spending your hours on Earth in that state?
We become perfectionistic about our favourite form of art, because it is our favourite and we want to be worthy of the love we give to that art. We want others to love what we make as much as we love art of that type, made by others. It’s ironic that we get scared of creating the sort of art we would love most, because we don’t think we can do a good enough job of it.
The power of play has been proven, to me, once more. Just get into your tools and media and play. Mess around. Mess around with purpose. You’ll surprise yourself at what you can do, when you try. You’ll also be amazed at how much you already know about making your most favourite art. But the biggest surprise will be how good you feel, not at the end, when you complete the work (though that is an amazing feeling), but how much you will love the hours you spend in making the work. The hours will fly by, I promise you.
Odd that we procrastinate so much and avoid doing things whose physiological and psychological payoff is so rich and so certain. We think that it’s going to be painful and frustrating and that we’ll disappoint ourselves at the paucity of our attempts, but it doesn’t go like that at all, I promise you. Attempt the thing you think you’re no good at (or not good enough at) for the sheer joy you’ll experience, whilst having a go. It’s so worth it!
Do it for the joy of it.