Or, why we creative folk are so darn hard on ourselves, and what we can do to change it.
Hey DT Grown-Ups Table friends! If you are new here, welcome. Head over to the Intro page, say hello and check out who else is here. Definitely look up #DrawTogetherGUT on instagram to see all the wonderful faces from last week’s assignment, and more drawn stories on Fun, and continued drawings of delights. FYI this week’s post is a little longer share than usual with way more words, but I got obsessed. The topic is personal and real for many of us. I hope you find the deep dive interesting, and this week’s assignment helpful and fun. See you in the comments!
You might never guess it from my loose writing, drawings and my far-from-perfect paintings, but I’m a perfectionist. I remember writing essays in grade school: I wanted to get everything perfect on the first try. I’d write, erase and rewrite my first sentence twenty times, eventually becoming so frustrated I’d crumple up my paper and throw it away, chiding myself for failing the assignment. More, for being a failure. Oof. It was tough. I was tough. That little girl was so hard on herself.
Now I’m 46. Today my high standards push me to make impossible things and keep going when things get rough. I create work that I’m proud of and sometimes it even makes a positive impact. And still - even though intellectually I know it’s nonsense - when I feel destabilized, insecure, out of practice or in a funk, those helpful high standards morph back into that rigid, hungry, raging beast of perfectionism and I freeze up. I become that little girl all over again.
I know i’m not alone. Maybe you have this malady, too. I think a lot of people who make things do. And yet, we know perfectionism is silly. As artists, we know there is no such thing as perfect. We know that pressure blocks us - that the only way through is to DO . So what is this paralyzing perfectionism? Where does it come from? And what the heck can we do about it?!?
Well, I did a little bit of homework to find out.
In this week’s DT Grown-Ups Table, I share some research on perfectionism, advice from a counselor who works exclusively with artists, and a drawing assignment to help us push through moments of perfectionism. So take a deep breath, friends, and shake it out. Let’s start letting go of Perfect.
What is Perfectionism?
A 2019 study published by the American Psychological Association says perfectionism is “broadly defined as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations.” Sounds right. And the Harvard Business Review shared this:
…The psychology of perfectionism to be rather complex. Yes, perfectionists strive to produce flawless work, and they also have higher levels of motivation and conscientiousness than non-perfectionists. However, they are also more likely to set inflexible and excessively high standards, to evaluate their behavior overly critically, to hold an all-or-nothing mindset about their performance.
Sound familiar? Me too. I like that latter definition because it addresses the positive and negative sides of perfectionism. People who tend towards perfectionism are extra driven and thoughtful. Rad! But we are also overly critical, and that all or nothing mindset can get in the way of everything. Blargh.
So that's a general idea of what perfectionism is. Now….
Where does it come from?
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