Nothing but nothing will kill your innate and emerging creativity like perfection. The more perfect I try to be, the more it sabotages my stitching and everything else around me. So maybe this is the time to share my dirty little secret: trying to be perfect does me in every time.
My never ending search for perfection in my art stops my creative process, and any project I may have in progress, dead in its tracks. Whether it’s writing this blog (is it perfect enough?), to my legacy quilt (I can see threads), giving a lecture or trunk show (was I entertaining? why didn’t that one laugh? Did they love me? Like me? Do I suck? I suck!), etc., my dance with wanting, having, to be perfect stalks and strangles me over and over again.
Chasing my personal brand of artistic and creative perfection kills any hope of my gaining any of the benefits of The Slow Stitching Movement (be they social, spiritual, financial, and/or physical benefits), because it ultimately renders me unable to connect with my creative muscle and discourages any physical movement at all. I become creatively and physically paralyzed! Not only does nothing get planned, nothing gets started, worked on, or completed without a loud, nagging angst.
Yet, when I muster the courage to delve into my perfectionistic B.S. during my Slow Stitching morning writing, I have come to a realization. I am not trying to be perfect for some elementary, personality flawed, under or over developed ego, or simple narcissistic gratification. Oh, no, sister, I’m trying to please others – the whole damn world! Those of us who often find ourselves crippled by our need to please . . . to be perfect, need to wrap our heads around this — perfection isn’t about our own crap – it’s all about trying to please everybody else. It’s about their permission, their approval, and yes, their [projected] crap!
Let’s take this one step further: Is there a stitcher, quilter, knitter or crocheter, weaver, tatter, fiber artist, or needle worker alive who doesn’t live to be complimented for their perfect work, even stitches, impeccable points, sense of design and mastery of skills? Even thread-perfect backs of projects (oh yes, cross stitchers look at the backs of the projects for a quick judgment of perfection)?
In my Slow Stitching webinars and lectures, I point out that one of the tenets of The Slow Stitching Movement is “developing excellence in your work.” Which might lead you to believe that excellence is a race toward transcendent perfection. By my mind, however, ‘excellence’ and ‘perfection’ are two majorly different beasts although, admittedly, there is a very fine line between the two.
Being perfect is straight up unrealistic, and you can drive yourself to a twice daily Xanax/Zoloft cocktail trying to achieve perfection in your stitching, your work, and your life.
Striving toward excellence, on the other hand, is a thoroughly noble goal, and as illustrated in The Slow Stitching Movement, only takes place during the process of your creative slow stitching and is never, ever, ever the destination.
If perfection in your slow stitching projects are your goal, then you are missing out on the beauty and rhythm of your creative process. You have become enslaved by some fantasy or, like me, you have developed a stitching performance anxiety, a needle holders stage fright, and soon find yourself not being able to find the motivation to coerce yourself to even pick up a needle.
Striving for excellence stimulates our creative juices and motivates us, whereas setting our sites on perfection sets us up for failure, feelings of worthlessness, defeat, procrastination, and worse — having to be perfect stops us from starting or finishing anything worthwhile in the first place.
Over the next week or so, I’m going to continue to write about our [my] battle with perfection versus excellence in Slow Stitching. Here is some of what I’ll be covering:
- The symptoms of perfection and how it’s hurting us.
- What we are murdering while dancing with our perfectionism.
- Signs our perfectionism is starting to spiral into chaos.
- How to stop perfectionism when it creeps up on us.
- The importance and gifts of creativity and developing excellence, not perfectionism, in your Slow Stitching work.
Keep checking back!
I know what you mean. I’ even putting off starting the stitching on my dog portrait because I’m afraid it won’t be perfect. Time to get it started. Thanks for the boost, Mark.
Hey Mark! I’m a big fan of yours, and have especially loved your slow stitching movement. I’m a psychologist (and quilter….obviously), and have recently focused on positive psychology (the study of our strengths and what helps us thrive). You may already know this, but one of the tenets of positive psychology or optimal well-being is spending as much time as possible in “flow.” Flow is the experience of losing oneself in an activity such that you’re so engaged you have no sense of time. It’s very good for psychological and physical health, and I think what you’re doing with slow stitching is the quilter’s answer to finding “flow”. Just slowing down, getting into the rhythm of sewing, with no deadlines and sense of being rushed. And definitely no sense of being perfect! Keep up the great work. I love your posts. And may you find your “flow”. 🙂
i am glad to see activity here. I love the Slow Stitching movement- it speaks to me. Perfectionism is sometimes a problem for me also. I am looking forward to more of your thoughts on that subject.
The Slow Stitching movement resonates with me. There is such joy in the threaded needle in my hand. The perfect stitches or the quest for the fabulous final product can paralyze the start of a project for fear of not being good enough. Thank you for this dialogue.
So happy to read this post. I gave up the perfectionist thing a few years ago and felt a lot better for it. But sometimes it finds it way back in to my approach. I am a much happier stitcher when I can work through it!
Yep mark —your comments are spot on—-I’ll take it a bit further by telling you what I’ve been telling my students—-“get out if YOUR own way”. —you see we blame others for this perfection thing, but In reality we are destroying or at the very least limiting our potentials by striving for perfection! I absolutely refuse to allow this in my classes when teaching! You see perfection goes hand in hand with negative thinking. Why? That’s easy –when we strive for this thing called perfection (which by the way doesn’t really exist)—-we focus on what we don’t like about our work—this leads to more negative thoughts. We all know the law of attraction—one negative thought leads to more negative thoughts. When we think negative —how can we possibly produce anything positive? Okay —-here’s the good stuff —-when we think positive, we feel positive, after all, have you ever thought negative thoughts and felt good? Obviously not –the two cannot co-exist! Positive thoughts free us,allow us to be brave, to move with confidence to explore techniques—you see positive thinking allows you to enjoy the journey not only the destination! So Mark for you and all who are reading this—-give a serious attempt to “getting out of your way”—-allow yourself to love where you are at presently,find beauty in what you are currently creating—–that’s when you will truly be artist! As always wishing you a happy and creative journey ——hugs! Renee
Why do I get so upset when my stitching isn’t perfect. I don’t have any friends or family to “show off” my work. I make quilts, do cross stitching, hand embroidery. I am self taught on all an love it all. I used to have a StatlerStitcher but gave that up because the quilting wasn’t mine. How do I stop being so hard on myself?
Robin, I have the same problem. I don’t worry about what others may think about my work, but MY standards are too darn high!
One thing that’s helped me is the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi It’s complicated, but a simplified version is the idea that beauty lies in imperfections. I want my work to look like a person made it, not a machine, so imperfections are not only okay but desirable. Whenever I catch myself being too much of a perfectionist, I say “wabi-sabi” and forge on ahead leaving the “mistake” in place.
Along those lines, I had heard that Persian rug-makers incorporated a mistake in their creations so that they WOULDN’T BE perfect. An attempt to be perfect would be like trying to be God, and no one should try to be God. And so, when I make a mistake now, I leave it in as a humbling act. I’m actually happy that I did it and can move on in peace 🙂
Since yesterday, I have taken a few quilts I have made and hung them on the walls. Not all of my borders are straight, not all my corners on blocks match up. But then some of the quilts are done quite well. (Perfect is no longer an existing word). As I stared at my work, I saw the beauty in what I created and gave me peace. I actually laughed out loud at some of them, but they are staying on the walls. Each one I have made has so many memories and takes me back to what was going on in my life at the time. I love every one of them.
Thank you CelticRose. I will look into this.
Great post, Mark! I am so guilty of this, and I even had to fight it when I was a daily journalist for the Wall Street Journal. My boss in the media and marketing group knew that I had a habit of obsessing over my copy, even on deadline, and trying to polish every sentence before sending to her for editing. When I am getting stuck on my writing or quilting, one trick of mine is to quite literally summon up her loud voice yelling at me, “Don’t fall in love with your own SH**, Cox!” I recently joked with her that I should record her voice saying that and play it back, but no matter — it’s already in my head. I just need to replay it from time to time.
Guilty as charged . . . and working VERY hard in rehab!
Downloaded the webinar yesterday – hoping to finish watching it today. AWESOME stuff!
Thank you so much. I really appreciate your getting involved. We’re in this together! xoxom
Yes, I am a paralyzed perfectionist, and this series sings to me.
And I’m “singing” for ME! LOL So happy you like it Bridget. I hope you get some relief from it. xoxom
Pingback: Create An Autumn Blanket Coat! Make a Halloween Door Wreath! Piece a Pretty Spring Quarter Quilt! Sculpt Spooky Spool Place Card Holders! Print on Fabric Using the Freezer Paper Method! Paper Piece a Zeppelin Block! Papier-Mâché Candy Bowls! PLUS . . .
A saying came to me years ago that has helped me for many years….. “Done is better than perfect.”
I discovered I had found a solution to the problem of not achieving perfection…I never started. I had lots of plans, the patterns, the fabric, the thread….and that’s as far as I got. Recently I was challenged to find 5 things I would love doing, even if I didn’t get paid. Sounds much easier than it is and in the process, I realized I do love doing many things, but fear of them not being perfect, or even good enough, has prevented me from starting. My new goal – start, continue, finish. I’m sure I’ll find my groove – but it will be an uphill battle – I’m an old dog, determined to learn a new trick! :0)