When I was working on my undergrad I developed a habit of not finishing my paintings. I would get them just to the point that they were almost finished and then set them aside and work on something else. I didn't even realize that I was doing this, but one day it occurred to me that this was becoming a habit. When I considered my behavior with curiosity it became clear pretty quickly that this was a coping mechanism. I was afraid to finish and sign my paintings because then I could not longer respond to criticism with, "well, I'm still workin on this painting." It didn't really matter how sure I was that the painting was finished. It was a way of putting up armor before criticism could be made.
The reality was that this was preventing me from moving forward. I was constantly stuck with "unfinished" pieces. Luckily, I had deadlines for my classes and eventually had to get them finished for the semester. But what if I would have carried that behavior into my art career? I can't sell a bunch of unfinished paintings? I would have created a situation in which I was stuck. Perfectionism can cause you can get stuck in different stages of the process, including fear to get started at all.
Maybe you are dealing with perfectionism yourself, but you haven't identified it yet. These are a few of the ways perfectionism may manifest:
*Fear to get started
*Fear to finish
*Fear to share
*Fear of failure
*Defensiveness, inability to take any kind of feedback
*Self-induced stress and anxiety about your work
*Striving to live up to someone else's standards (often you don't even realize you are doing this)
If this is feeling familiar to you, how can you bring more kindness and compassion to yourself and your journey?
One place you can start is brining joy and gratitude to where you are on your artistic journey right now. You may be new to art or trying a new medium, style, or technique. You may be progressing and developing. Wherever you are know that this time and space is an important part of the journey as you develop your skills and style. It is easy to wan to skip over the beginning stages, and it can be frustrating when you have a vision for something, but don't have all the skills yet. But know, without a doubt, that where you are is invaluable. Each piece of art we make contains within the process innumerable lessons. We progress each time we work. Our brains synthesize information in new ways. We notice new things, we make connections, and observations. Each and every piece of art we create, no matter how much we like it is an immensely valuable part of our learning and progressing as an artist. Embrace imperfection, embrace learning, embrace the journey because I know if you keep it up you will look back and realize how valuable that time was to get you to where you are now.
For specific strategies to address perfectionism check out this resource for members.
When you think about things that hold you back you may automatically think of external things like lack of time, money, or resources. However, your frame of mind, perspective, and the things you tell yourself can also be a huge stumbling block. Does the voice in your head sound like a kind and encouraging friend, a sheepish critic, or a flat out bully?
The things stories you tell yourself, and the ways you talk to yourself can have a significant impact on your approach to your work and your career. Most artists pride themselves in producing something high quality. This can extend from the art itself, to the website, social posts, packaging, and more. Striving for high quality is great. But be aware of the line where doing your best and producing something of quality changes into perfectionism and defeatism. Your high quality today may not be your high quality in a year, and that is okay. Find ways to do your best with what you have, and make progress as you go. Be aware of where perfectionism is holding you back or preventing you from making progress at all.
Sometimes perfectionism can be felt as fear. Fear that you aren't good enough, fear of what others will think, fear of judgement. Brené Brown says, "Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight."
As we delve deeper into this month's theme of perfectionism, take a moment to consider:
*Am I striving for my best or for perfect?
*Am I diminishing where I am now in my journey because I'm not perfect?
*Am I using perfection as an excuse to hold back out of fear of judgement?
*Am I living into fear instead of moving forward with gentle compassion, kindness, and curiosity toward myself?