How To Survive An Attack Of The Killer Ps – Part 1 – Perfectionism

Between Us And Beyond
image: dancoachcreative

When creating myself, and when hearing about other artists creating, there are common themes and blocks that show up time and time again. Shared struggles that, although they’re slightly different in their fine detail, have enough similarities to make them worth discussing, and finding ways to overcome them.

Three of the most destructive and frequently appearing blocks all begin with the letter P.

So in this mini series of three posts, we’re going to look at each of the three, what they look like, and how you can protect yourself from attacks of these dangerous killer Ps.

Killer P number one – Perfectionism.

What it looks like: In simple terms, you expect that everything you create should be perfect in every way. Anything less than perfection means you’re disappointed in yourself, and feel inadequate as an artist. Over and over again.

Why it’s so destructive: Suffering from perfectionism once is bad enough but deeper damage occurs with repeated appearances. Each time you create and it’s not perfect (which, for all of us that are human, is every single time we create) it’s another harmful little blow to your confidence and artistic self esteem.

Those feelings of “I’m a failure”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not a proper artist”, “Why should I even bother starting when it’s not going to end up how I perfectly envision it” and a hundred and one others all become stronger and more insistent, every time you create something less than perfect.

In the end, it can get to the point where you only create projects that are safe, that you’ve done before, that you know you can do. Or, if perfectionism really gives you a thorough battering, you stop creating altogether.

How to beat it: Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome perfectionism. The crux of the problem is our expectation. When there’s a gap between our expectations and reality, there’s disappointment. We expect that, because we’re an artist, we should be able to create perfect work, right from the off.

This is a ridiculous expectation. It’s like saying because a new born baby is now in the world, has a mouth and a voice, it should be fluent in seven languages already.

We need time to evolve as artists, in the same way we need time to learn and evolve in anything else we do in life. No-one’s an overnight expert.

Another major problem that leads to crippling perfectionism, is that we are focused almost entirely on the end result, that product we manufacture at the end of the creative process. Of course this is part of being an artist, we make art. But it’s just one part, and if we focus entirely on the end, we lose out on everything else between that and where we began.

If you were going on a world cruise for 3 months, do you think you’d spend the whole time focused on nothing but that moment when you arrived home again with a glowing tan? Would you refuse to take part in any activities or explorations on the way, and be blind to all the glorious and exotic places you pass through and stop off at, because all you cared about was your final destination? Of course not, it would foolish to even book such a cruise if that was your attitude.

Yet we adopt exactly that attitude when we embark on a new creative adventure, if we focus only on what’s at the end.

Creativity is an adventure, and each new idea you explore is merely a starting point for that adventure. You don’t know where it will end, but if you have the attitude that you’re going to enjoy every moment along the way, you will. And you’ll be a far richer, far more experienced and far more accomplished artist because of it. Plus a much happier one too!

To recap, if you want to beat perfectionism, remember you’re human, and we learn as we go. We’re not born being able to do everything that we might later learn to do at some point in our lives. It’s the same with being an artist, let yourself evolve gently, be kind, be patient.

Second, enjoy your creativity, forget about the end point or the product and fully absorb every step along the way. If we can’t enjoy the moment you’re in right now, you won’t be able to enjoy anything.

Follow these two tips and you’ll go a long way to overcoming the first killer P – perfectionism.

The next in this mini series on the Killer Ps is about Procrastination. Read it here.


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4 thoughts on “How To Survive An Attack Of The Killer Ps – Part 1 – Perfectionism”

  1. Good stuff, Dan. Just did this today- I needed to do a post, it wasn’t coming together well in my head, so eventually I just made a start. After a while it began to form nicely, so I scrapped all the first few disjointed paragraphs and went from there.

    Perfectionism is particularly a hindrance if you’re tired or have got too many other things on the go- it’s usually hard to make something perfect under those conditions, so if you’re not careful it can stop you from creating altogether. Thankfully it didn’t tonight, and I’ll remember this experience for future reference!


  2. Juliet, that’s such a great example, that happens to me often.

    We can put ourselves under so much pressure to make the first sentence, the first paintbrush stroke or the first dance step absolutely perfect, that we almost dare not start, in case it isn’t something ground breakingly stunning.

    Like you’ve shown, often if you just get started with SOMETHING, it’s enough to get the momentum and the juices flowing, and you end up creating something worthwhile, even if you do scrap the first few bits afterwards.

    This idea deserves a full post I think, thank you!


  3. A thought has been leaning on me that is related to something between perfectionism and competitiveness. I have come across many cases in which people find it so difficult emotionally not to be the best at something, that rather than dealing with that problem, they adopt a stance that there is no such thing as better or worse- that everything is a matter of taste. I think the discounting of samples of excellence, whether in literature, painting, drawing… or any area of endeavor may make it easier for some people to create, but I think one is less likely to mature in a craft.
    I don’t how how authentic the belief is when I hear it- that there is no such thing as outstanding in artistic field- that the area is entirely subjective. But I don’t feel that trying to talk oneself into that belief is the best way of dealing with the fundamental issue that we should be able to hold our heads high and pursue our passions even if we will never be as proficient as some people are who have that same passion. We are no less worthy to pursue it and no less entitled to call ourselves artists or writers than people who may be more proficient.


  4. Thanks for such a thoughtful response Fritzie.

    I would add that whatever else anyone does, or has done, in our chosen fields of creativity, we can always improve ourselves, become more experienced, more competent, more adventurous and so on, than we were before. For that we only have ourselves to measure against.


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