In honor of my upcoming online workshop The Imperfection Option, my next couple posts will focus in on some of the subtle dynamics of perfectionism and how it works as an anti-creative force.
This week, let's explore a sneaky kind of perfectionism that shows up in the simple act of putting off using the stuff you love the most.
So here's a question for you: are you hoarding your best stuff?
Maybe you've got some luscious new paints or a high-quality canvas that you are holding onto for the day you'll feel more able to live up to their promise?
Maybe you've got an amazing story idea that you don't want to use up until you've gained more skill at pulling off the right tone and tension it will need?
Maybe you've got folders full of beautiful images you don't want to "waste" on just any collage?
Maybe you've got a closet full of gorgeous creamy journals and drawers full of pens with perfectly pointy little tips and endlessly flowing ink that you swooned over in the store and plan to use someday... when you have a good-enough idea to use them on?
Maybe you've got wonderful, flattering clothes in your wardrobe that you don't let yourself wear because you're saving them for a day that matters more?
Oh dear. You are breaking my heart. Here's why I think it is so important to use the good stuff today, now, before you are "ready" and without waiting another minute.
First of all, let's look at what you are saying to the Universe every time you consider and reject the idea of using your "good stuff":
- Today I am not worthy of the materials I love the most
- I haven't yet earned the right to use good stuff
- Someday I'll be better prepared to make appropriate use of my best material
- I could never forgive myself if I made a mess of something that costs money
Can you see how each of these thoughts speaks of fear?
FEAR of not being good enough
FEAR of not being worthy
FEAR of not being prepared
FEAR of taking a risk
FEAR that resources are scarce and you might waste something precious
FEAR of making a mess
FEAR of your own self-judgement
And the insidious bit is that all these normal human fears are being nicely papered over with the glossy happy thought that "later" you'll be ready; "someday" you'll deserve the best; "eventually" you'll be so good that you can be sure you won't "waste" the good stuff. By believing in a future, more perfect state, you get to NOT face your fears today, and still feel like at least you are on the path of creating.
It's a neat trick - but it is NOT supporting you in becoming the creator you want to be. In fact, quite the opposite.
Because (brace yourself) THERE IS NO FUTURE, MORE PERFECT, STATE.
I'm sorry. I really am. I wish I could tell you something different, but that mythical future in which you are more worthy, more prepared, less likely to make a mess is Pure Fantasy.
And by comforting yourself with this fantasy, you are training yourself to NOT face the absolutely universal, normal anxieties that come with being a creator. You are keeping yourself smaller and scared-er and less free than you need to be.
You can gain all the painting skills in the world, and there will still be a chance that you'll cover that gorgeous expensive canvas with something that doesn't live up to your vision. Being a creator means you will have to take the risk to try something and trust yourself to forgive the stuff that just doesn't work.
You can be working on your tenth novel and find that another "best idea" keeps coming to you. Being a creator means trusting that more good ideas are always on the way.
You can have a long and illustrious career as an interior designer and you still won't be able to get away with using crappy materials. Your rooms will still always look better if you use the best quality stuff available to you, the stuff you love, the stuff that really sings. Being a creator means realizing that the quality of your work and the quality of your materials go hand in hand.
Using the Good Stuff is what makes you better - for at least three reasons:
1. Using your best ideas and the best materials you can get your hands on is just like "playing up" in tennis. (That is a thing, right? Playing up? Because I am not now nor have I ever been a tennis player, it's just the best analogy I could think up in this moment...) In creating, your materials are your partner. You don't create separately from your ideas and your materials, creating is you engaging in an intimate conversation with your ideas and your materials. The point is to have the best possible conversation with the best partner you can find, right? It elevates your game.
2. Using your best stuff gives you a chance to practice taking a risk. It forces you to reckon with the core truths of creating: you might make a mess. you might fail. you might not be able to pull off what you can imagine. No one can guarantee that you will succeed. BUT THE BIGGER point is that YOU CAN WITHSTAND any of those eventualities. You get to practice risking mess and withstanding mess and fixing the mess and seeking beauty in the mess, and you get to practice forgiving the mess, and forgiving yourself. As they say about the hokey pokey: that's what it's all about.
3. Using your best stuff puts you in contact with what you love the most. When you allow yourself that pleasure, rather than holding yourself apart from it, you teach yourself to withstand joy. You teach yourself that you are willing to risk losing what you love so that you can discover that love can't be used up or wasted. You teach yourself that love doesn't have to be earned or deserved. You undo the pernicious belief that pleasure is the dessert you earn only after choking down the liver dinner of "real life."
You get to rewire your brain to think like a creator: life is a ground for your pleasure, it is a field for the expression of your love, it is an opportunity for joy.
I guess what it all boils down to is this:
Life is NOW
You are ENOUGH
Creating only happens in the PRESENT
MORE is always on the way.
So use the good stuff. Give away your best ideas. Cover those creamy pages with ink. No more holding yourself at arms length from love.
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