This morning, I am thinking about perfectionism. During a recent conversation I had with my very talented wife about talent, skill level and completing projects, she made a comment that made me think about this topic. (See her work on her instagram account here)
One thing you need to know about my wife is that she is a person who consistently completes things. She says she’s going to do something and…she does it. From the outside looking in it appears she just wills things into completion with very little effort.
What she said to me during our conversation is that she tends to only try to start projects that she knows she can finish. She sets goals for herself that she knows she can achieve and in doing so sets herself up for great success. In my creative life, I’ve noticed that I tend to take on things that are outside of my level of capacity. I tend to challenge myself beyond my own means. What this means is that I often end up unsatisfied or leaving projects incomplete. I’ve come a long way in this regard. There used to be a day when I would simply not start a project because I felt that I would not be able to complete it to the extent that I saw inside my head.
My wife experiences challenges during each of her illustrations, there are moments where she brings me the piece and asks me to look at it and tells me that she thinks it’s terrible and it’s not worth finishing. Almost every time she works on a project she does this. However, instead of scrapping the piece and starting something new she presses on until the finish. She Is a completionist at heart. It’s probably good that she’s not a gamer… she’d be lost in Hyrule forever! All you Zelda fans know what I’m talking about.
The way that she approaches her work reminds me of the teaching I’ve heard from numerous people. But I’m thinking of Jake Parker who said that something is better finished than perfect. I would agree with this statement, as a creative it is important to finish projects. Everything you work on whether it’s a sketch or a finished piece is a building block toward the next great project completion. If you go through your creative journey only half finishing things you will never understand how to finish stuff better, how to bring projects through to their realization. It would be like a dentist who only learns how to prepare a tooth for filling but never learns how to complete the filling or a carpenter who learns how to use a hammer but never learns how to construct a house.
I think for me it is still a struggle to complete things because of perfectionistic tendencies. Not so much in how I evaluate the artistic merit of my work. I feel like I understand where I am at in terms of my skill level and capacity as an illustrator and artist. I recognize that I have a great deal of work and learning to do and so my ego is not in the way when I evaluate the “beauty” of my work. My perfectionistic tendencies lie more in story these days. I sometimes struggle to complete projects because I lose sight of the purpose of the project. Sometimes, you must set aside perfection to complete and tell a story. I want each, and every one of my projects to be solid from the storytelling perspective. Sometimes I find myself hitting a wall with the storytelling aspects of a single illustration or a novel or a comic book that I’m working on. Then I tend to go stagnant or pursue something else because the frustration stifles me.
I suppose these tendencies could be a combination of things. It could be perfectionism but it could also be a lack of knowledge. I am a growing storyteller, and I am slowly learning the tenets of telling a good story. I’m currently working through the Story Gird by Shawn Coyne. It’s a deep and challenging read, but I am learning from the wisdom held in this book. I recommend it to any writer of any experience level.
I am curious, do you find yourself being stifled by perfectionism as well? Do you identify with the approach that my wife takes where are you only start projects that you know you can finish? How does perfectionism play out in your creative journey? I’d love to hear from you and hear your thoughts on the subject. Feel free to leave a comment below in the comments section.
In the meantime, you might want to check out these posts that I came across regarding perfectionism. There’s a lot to be considered here.
Psychology today says this about Perfectionism:
Perfectionism is a trait that makes life an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. The need for perfection is usually transmitted in small ways from parents to children, some as silent as a raised eyebrow over a B rather than an A.
Anxietycanada.com has a great article about overcoming perfectionism. You can read it here. I identify with a number of the questions that help you recognize if perfectionism is something you struggle with.
I hope you can find joy and balance in your work. May you always strive for excellence and embrace your limitations. Realize that nobody is perfect and nobodies art is perfect. Not even Kim Jung Gi. 🙂 Don’t give up, keep creating and don’t be afraid to fail.
Until Next time gang, be good to each other.