Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no consequence whatsoever.
— Isak Dinesen
We’re discovering our connectedness to the Divine and the flow of ideas, energy and support that we will find ourselves immersed in, if we haven’t already. But there are a couple of things to be cautious about.
The first is that joy-killer that tends to creep in just when we are starting to stretch out and have some fun. Julia writes, “Tillie Olsen correctly calls it the ‘knife of the perfectionist attitude in art.’ You may call it something else. Getting it right, you may call it, or fixing it before I go any further. You may call it having standards. What you should be calling it is perfectionism.”
Just when we are on a roll, our inner critic comes running in, as if to rescue us from embarrassing ourselves, waving the banner of “I’ll fix that for you, my pretty!”
Perfectionism is not about fixing, upgrading, or editing. It is a life-sucking, soul stealing, authenticity-flattening habit that disguises itself as having high standards, or making something “marketable.” Sarah Ban Breathnach has a wonderful essay called Progress, Not Perfection for her May 15 entry in Simple Abundance. (I highly recommend the whole piece, if you have her book.)
She muses, “How much of our lives is frittered away – spoiled, spent, or sullied – by our neurotic insistence on perfection…In real life, we should strive to be our best – not the world’s… Perfection leaves so little room for improvement. So little space for acceptance – or joy.”
Perfectionism comes from our fear. It is an endless loop that prevents us from moving forward. Julia explains, “Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired into getting the details right. We correct our originality into a uniformity that lacks passion and spontaneity…
“The perfectionist fixes one line of a poem over and over – until no lines are right. The perfectionist redraws the chin line on a portrait until the paper tears. The perfectionist writes so many versions of scene one that she never gets to the rest of the play. The perfectionist writes, paints, creates with one eye on her audience. Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.”
In a nutshell, perfectionism is our fear that we are not in control. Guess what? If we’re really making art, we’re not. More thoughts on this next week.