My daughter is hunched over her art table, blonde bangs in her eyes, marker in hand, completely immersed in her work. She is creating. I watch her from afar, not wanting to interrupt the magic. I watch her pause and think about her next move. I watch her carefully move the pen across the page, making different marks and lines, creating different shapes and patterns. I watch her smile with satisfaction, and even though she was deeply entranced in her work a second ago, she hops up, runs over, proudly holds out her piece, “Mommy! Look what I made!”
Sometime later, I snap a pic and send it to my mom. She comments, “I love how she fills the page.” This phrase, “fills the page”, strikes me as important. Mom, sorry if I’ve misinterpreted your words, but they made me suddenly see my little girl’s confidence, her courage, not worried about others but making it exactly as she wanted it to be. She was free in her creating. She chose the color, the design, the shapes. And the process (as well as the final product) brought her so much joy.
My sweet girl has not fully developed the need-to-be-perfect attitude yet, and I am so grateful. I, on the other hand, have a fully mature case of perfectionism. I think it started with simply having high expectations for myself. I worked hard in school, loved learning, cared about my grades. I did not take it well when I got anything less than an A (especially in college). I would agonize over tests and read and reread papers, making them as “perfect” as I could. And I did well. Now, high expectations are not necessarily bad, but in hindsight, I can see how they can hold us back.
My freshman roommate in college was an art major. For her first drawing class, she brought these huge projects back to our dorm room; one I particularly remember was a charcoal series that resulted in her self-portrait morphing into an animal, a tiger. It was amazing to watch. The whole time, I kept saying (out loud or maybe just in my head), “Wow, I could never do that.” Because I just knew that mine would never be even remotely that good. And it would not be okay for me to do something “not good”.
Looking back, I realize that my perfectionism really just manifested itself in paralyzing fear. In college, I chose classes I knew I would do well in; I stuck to what was comfortable for me, what I was good at. As a teacher, I constantly worried if I was doing it “right”, measuring myself against others instead of measuring my success by the amount of growth in my own students. As a parent, it’s a daily struggle to block out all the “you should do ______________ and definitely never ever do _______________”. It’s been said by many that this comparison seems to be an unfortunate side-effect of our social media obsession, and while I agree, it’s something I am totally guilty of.
I recently listened to Oprah’s talk with the amazing Brené Brown. She explains that cultivating creativity is one way to make peace with vulnerability (letting yourself be truly seen) and to blot out shame (a deep-seeded belief that you are not enough). She said:
“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame. There’s no such thing as creative people, and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.”
Wow, you guys. I used to think of myself as a “not-creative” person, maybe because I got that B- in high school art class, could never quite master the concept of shading or blending colors, or was never able to sing the second soprano part in choir so I just stuck to the melody. And it wasn’t until just recently that I began to view writing as an art. I had always thought of writing as more of an academic thing. I liked writing because there are rules, formats, boundaries. But the more I write, and the more I read, I realize the “rules” and “boundaries” are way more flexible than I initially thought.
At first, I was scared to write. I’ve always wanted to write a book, but it’s actually kind of terrifying, to put yourself out there, to be truly vulnerable. Just hop on over to Amazon or Good Reads and read the book reviews. For every shining review, there’s a brutal critic who absolutely tears authors to shreds. Fear of the audience is a real thing for me. I’ve had some ideas for books, but my need to create “greatness” stops me every time I try to start. Because unless it’s going to be a best-seller, I don’t want to write it. But that’s ridiculous isn’t it? How many great books, beautiful paintings, moving songs have we missed out on because the artist was too scared to get started? It’s kind of overwhelming to think about.
So, in this blog, in this space, I like to think that I am cultivating my creativity, growing my courage, becoming brave (is it a coincidence that my pastor started a series on courage this week?). I’m learning to slowly unravel the perfectionism, become unparalyzed, realize that it’s okay to produce random sloppy ideas or writing that no one will care to read. I’m learning from my daughter to simply fill the page, with a measured hand and a joyful heart. It will not all be good, but it will be mine.
So, friends, if there is something you want to do, be brave and do it! Go back to school. Go on an adventure. Draw, paint, sculpt, write, sing, dance, make music. Don’t let your fear of not being “good” stop you. After all, the worst that could happen is that you add a little bit more beauty to this broken world. And there’s nothing not “good” about that.
Currently Reading: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I was a HUGE fan of The Secret Life of Bees and was overjoyed to find out that people really love her most recent novel. It follows the lives of two young girls in their two unique voices, one a slave, the other the daughter of her master. You all know I am a sucker for historical fiction and I am loving this one so far!
Currently Cooking: Perfect Pork Chops
- 3 pork chops- I like boneless, but bone-in work too
- salt, pepper, garlic powder, ground sage (or whatever herb you love) to taste (about 1/2 tsp each)
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil (or oil of choice)
- 1 sweet apple like pink lady or honey crisp
- 1/2 onion, sliced thin
- 2 sprigs rosemary
- Preheat oven to 400°. Heat cast iron skillet on stove.
- Brush both sides of pork chop with coconut oil. Sprinkle seasonings evenly.
- Sear chops on cast iron for about 3 minutes on each side. Then remove to a plate.
- Place apple slices, onion, and rosemary on the skillet, then put pork chops back on.
- Put in oven for 5-10 minutes until pork is done or reaches a temperature of 150°F.
- Serve with a yummy salad and roasted veggies!
Thanks for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.
4 thoughts on “The Paralysis in the Perfectionism”
I’m sorry that I passed that perfectionist thing on to you but so glad you discovered it early in your life ❤️ I appreciate your blog so much and especially admire your courage in putting yourself out there for all to see- I love you 😘
I don’t think you gave it to me as much as it’s a basic human problem 🙂 you and I just struggle with it a little more ♥️ Love you mama!!