How's That Quest for Perfection Working For You?

My very-public talk didn't go exactly as I'd hoped...

On Friday, March 10, I stepped onstage in front of an audience of 250 people to present a TED-like talk about my personal journey behind the Creative Constellation project.  I was acutely aware that I, along with the other speakers at the conference, was being filmed by WhidbeyTV and that the recording was likely to be replayed over time not only by my fellow islanders in the comfort of their homes, but also in the local grocery store, where a couple of large-screen TVs positioned above the magazines and donuts play WhidbeyTV productions on an endless loop. 

We're talking big stuff in the small but vibrant pond that is Whidbey island life.  

I took my spot center stage and confidently asked my opening question "Show of hands, who here has organized your life around a single burning passion?" Then, while I was looking out at the audience, scanning for hands, my thumb slipped and I accidentally caused my slide (and speaking notes) to advance prematurely, whereupon I blanked completely on what I was supposed to say next, and froze like an ice-sculpture.  I'm talking deer-in-the-headlights time; the stuff that a million recurring thespian nightmares are made of.  500 human eyes and one camera lens pointed straight at me while I blinked slowly back.

After 20 years or so of frozen silence (friends tell me it was less time than that, but I'm pretty sure they are just being nice) I called up to the booth and asked them to back up to the correct slide, and plowed ahead.  I went along at a pretty good clip for awhile, then my thumb slipped again and I got to repeat the freeze-then-call-for-help cycle a second time.  It may have happened a third time as well, but by that point I was getting a tad numb and stopped counting.  

So there you have it:  Another opportunity for perfection down the tubes.  A deeply flawed performance preserved for posterity.  Poop.  

What does one do with a deeply imperfect performance?

Well, if you happen to be a creativity coach who happens to teach a workshop called The Imperfection Option (coming up on April 22!) there's a bit of pressure to take practice what I preach, which means finding a way to celebrate the snafu-ridden performance as an opportunity for forgiveness, humility, and vulnerability.  Yay!

And I did, eventually, get there.  But not at first.

First, I had to remind myself that perfect makes sense only as as a verb, not a goal

According to Dr. Elaine Jacobsen, who studies the challenges of smart, creative adults, there two components of giftedness:  1. heightened receptivity and 2.  the urge to perfect.  This means that children and adults who are smart and creative get to enjoy both a larger-than-usual volume of input from the world AND a baked-in drive to make everything we are part of really really good.  Excellent even.  Perfect, if possible.

I find it somewhat soothing to know that this urge to do things well and actually achieve the excellence I can envision is baked in and that the despair I feel when I fall short is a feature of my wiring, not a bug. It also feels supremely useful to shift focus away from seeking a state of perfection (which we mere mortals cannot hope to achieve) and toward seeking the experience of improvement (which is infinitely more attainable).

But even with this wisdom in mind, I may have briefly waltzed with some other popular strategies for coping with displays of imperfection

When any of us are faced with the prospect of public revelation of our deeply imperfect, vulnerable selves, there are a couple popular go-to options for response:

1. get defeated and ashamed and take to our beds, vowing never again to even try because failure is too painful to bear.  

2. Express copious amounts of anger and frustration both outwardly in the form of cursing, blaming, and/or denouncing oneself or any handy others, and inwardly in the form of eating large volumes of cheese, chocolate, and/or potato chips.  

And then, when we're ready, there's door #3:  The Imperfection Option.  

That's the one where we remember that perfectionism is just a really bad radio station that we play in our heads and that real humans who intend to keep creating and living out loud no matter what can simply choose to change to a different channel.

Three of the alternative channels we talk about in my Imperfection Option workshop are:

KHUM - the station of humility, groundedness, and acceptance of micro-step progress and occasional backward motion

KLRN - the station of curiosity, willingness to be a learner rather than a knower, and acceptance of growth through engagement with challenge and struggle

KLUV - the station of already-enoughness, cosmic pre-approval, and acceptance of the grace that comes with surrendering of control

The tools I've learned for coping with perfectionism were so helpful to me in the aftermath of my less-than-stellar performance, that I decided to offer the Imperfection Option Workshop this month on Saturday, April 22 from 9 - 1 at Blueschool Arts.

If you're in the greater Seattle area, I hope you'll join me! Perfectionism sucks.  But I am convinced by my own experience that you can get faster at changing the channel on your perfectionistic mental chatter so you can keep creating and doing your thing with shorter stops under the covers and far fewer potato chips down the gullet.

See you there...and coming soon to a donut-adjacent video screen near you!