The Art of Mind

Coaching Creative Professionals for Success

Paralyzed by Perfection

Posted on by Lisa Agaran Riley

perfectionBeing controlled by the need for perfection can prevent us from entering a deeper level in our creative process. Expecting our artwork to be flawless on the first attempt keeps our work shallow and hinders our ability to create something truly extraordinary.

Part of reaching our creative potential is a willingness to create work that is less then perfect. If we’re not open to adjusting our standards to less then what was originally envisioned, we run the risk of staying creatively blocked. We get trapped in a loop of perfecting instead of allowing ourselves the space for trail and error. Striving for perfection not only keeps us from growing creatively it also sabotages our potential success.

Great works of art did not happen instantly. When we view works of art in a museum or read a classic novel, we are witnessing the completed creation of the artist. Rarely do we get glimpses of all the drafts, the mistakes or bad ideas prior to the finished piece. I remember seeing preliminary sketches from Picasso in a gallery. They resembled primitive line drawings on small scraps of newsprint. However elementary they appeared, these represented drafted ideas, which eventually lead to some of his most well renowned cubist paintings.

Because we don’t see the entire creative process behind the end product, we’re under this illusion that a masterpiece must have automatically manifested it self to the artist. We take this perception and use it to determine true artistic talent and success. Applying these same expectations on our own creativity, we end up judging ourselves as either lesser than or not being talented enough. We take it for granted and forget that the masters of the art world experienced their own share of bad work while developing their skills.

The truth is, perfection does not exist and how can we obtain something that doesn’t exist. There might be times when we get pretty close, but there will always be something we could have improved or changed. I don’t know any artist including myself that felt their creation had arrived at some final destination of perfection. Even the great masters have felt their own creations never reached a level of absolute completion. There was always something they could have changed or done more of.
The healthier approach is striving for excellence. This differs from perfection in that we see mistakes as opportunities to grow and to improve our abilities. We feel empowered by the process of taking risks and experimenting versus paralyzed by fear. When we focus on excellence we are more incline to persevere and have the courage to face the work repeatedly. We are inspired to find a creative solution when faced with an obstacle as opposed to being immobilized. When we strive for excellence we embrace all stages of the creative process without judging ourselves harshly.

Be kind to yourself by giving yourself permission to be imperfect, to do hundreds of bad versions before you create something great. Part of choosing to live a creative life and transforming your artistic passion into a profession means being in it for the long haul. This may mean being able to face the great, the bad and even the worse of our creations over and over again.

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2 Responses to Paralyzed by Perfection

Lisa Riley says: November 29, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Hi Veny,
So glad to hear that my article really resonated for you as well as offered encouragement. I think many of us creatives suffer from the dreaded voice of perfection. The key is learning how to manage it and work through it and create anyway. Like one of the previous post talks about, start out by doing the bad version. What I tell many of my clients is give yourself permission to produce crappy (imperfect) stuff in order to get out of paralysis and into creating/producing again. It feels better when you’re producing versus not. Hope this helps you in the future. Really appreciate your comment.

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Veny says: November 29, 2012 at 4:46 am

I found your post from @designtaxi and I have to say, it hit so many nerves. About a month ago, I backed out of an assignment in the middle of it, because of exactly this. The fear – of not producing a good work for the editor – took the better part of me and paralysed me to the point that I could not do it.

I never thought it would happen to me to such point, but it did. I’ve dealt with it, and have learned that it’s all in the mind, and I need to take control of it.

Thank you for this post, I will keep going back to it every time I feel I am slipping into that paralysed zone

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