Perfectionism is something we often talk about here.
With good reason – it’s one of the biggest obstacles we face as creative artists, and consistently seems to sabotage our attempts to just create what matters, create what we love, and enjoy ourselves while we’re doing so.
Striving to make the best possible work we can is admirable, and of course our ambitions are important.
The problems start when we focus our entire creative energy on crafting that one single perfect masterpiece that will be our great glory, our lasting legacy.
Wherever that drive for perfectionism may have been inherited from – parents, past teachers, peers – it doesn’t support us in being the greatest, happiest artist we can be today.
In fact more often than not it inhibits us greatly, making us feel restricted, frustrated and miserable.
So I’m suggesting an alternative.
I’m suggesting we free ourselves from perfectionism by passing it by entirely, and instead moving towards mastery.
To explain this a little more clearly let’s use an analogy of mountain climbing.
Spending all our time and creative energy striving for one definitive masterpiece, we’re akin to a mountain climber who only ever wants to scale one peak.
Whether it’s their Everest, Mt Fuji or Mt Kilimanjaro, that’s all they focus on, it’s their sole quest.
In their eyes then, they only ever see two options – success and failure.
Success is to climb their one mighty peak, to reach that elusive summit.
Failure is absolutely everything other than that.
If and when they do achieve this great conquest, then what? There’s nothing else for them.
Yes of course they have the glory of their wonderful climb. But that will soon fade. What do they then do with the rest of their lives?
Possibly even worse, if they don’t ever manage to reach those lofty heights and touch the clouds, they will not – being perfectionists remember – count all the admirable attempts, and all the time they’ve spent actually in places they love doing something they’re incredibly passionate about.
Instead they will see their entire mountaineering career as a failure, because their only measure is like a switch, on or off, one or zero – whether they conquered that single great mountain or not.
Applying this back to our creative lives, the feelings are similar.
If we strive to create just that one definitive masterwork, everything other than achieving this is deemed a failure. What pressure! And what a way to instantly and emphatically destroy all evidence of the wonderful work you do along the way.
So instead, we can be mountain climbers ambitious to explore and scale many great peaks, over many great continents.
When we look back over our career we will see not a single mighty achievement, then nothingness. (Or worse, just nothingness.)
Instead we will see a series of magical conquests, an expansive range of mountains, each with their own unique charm and challenge and beauty.
We will think not only of a single great conquest, but of all of our great conquests.
And as well as these greatest conquests we will have our latest conquests.
The work we’re immersed in right now, as passionately as ever, not just the one great project we did 14 years ago then gave up because we didn’t know what to do next.
Our creative life’s work will be not a solitary portrait in an otherwise empty gallery, but a composite portrait made up of many works, each showing a unique aspect of our talents, our ideas, our ambitions, our creativity.
And it’s not just a composite portrait of your subject matter. It becomes a composite portrait of yourself, showing us your audience many sides and aspects of your personality and your talents and your individualism.
How freeing to let go of this quest for one precisely defined vision of perfection, and instead give yourself permission to explore any vision that inspires you!
Also, by shifting from perfectionism to mastery, you shift your attention from that single distant peak, to the world that surrounds you at any given time.
You remember that this artistic life is not about chasing one pinnacle, but embracing the joy and the privilege we have as artists – being able to experience and feel and enjoy our surroundings in a way others can’t.
Then being able to capture those experiences, accentuate their most beautiful, most vital parts, and present them back to the world. With ever increasing mastery, as we move from peak to peak, as we create in our wake that ever expanding glorious snow capped range.
So pass by perfectionism, and leave it behind.
It’s time to move into the mastery of your creativity. Project by project, day by day, moment by moment.
And it’s time to move into the mastery of becoming yourself – in every light, in every season, and with every emotion.
What are your thoughts on passing perfectionism and moving into mastery? Join the conversation to let us know.
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