I am a perfectionist. It’s not just a quirk. It is something that I have grown up with, maybe learned from my parents and/or teachers, or perhaps it is just something that I was born with, something in my DNA. It doesn’t really matter though, does it? The bottom line is trying to be perfect and trying to please people in any part of my life has proven to be a sometimes mild, and sometimes catastrophic liability.
A lot of people wear their ‘I am a Perfectionist’ title like a badge that one might compulsively sew on a Girl Scout’s sashing. They are very proud of the fact that they strive for perfection in everything that they do – and will break their neck to do it, and do it perfectly. Most of those folks, however, haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of their rigid and controlling behaviors. Frankly, I think it would be almost impossible to be a true perfectionist without being a royal pain in the butt (think Quilt Police, or critical stitch examiner), if not to your self-esteem, then to everyone around you (… out of kindness, compassion, or basic humanitarian, most people keep their lips buttoned up and allow these stitchzillas to get away with murder).
Yet, here I am one of those disillusioned stitch-perfect-wannabes who constantly strives for creative perfection, never hitting the mark, then spending the next several years of my life in a self-loathing funk because I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. One non-perfect inspired challenge after another is a lot of ‘funk’ to carry around in a lifetime.
I hate that I’m a perfectionist and except perfection in my fiber art, but I have little control over it and consider it as much a neurotic, mental health issue as one might consider a mild case of OCD, an anxiety disorder, or phobia. I hate to break this to you, but advanced and all-consuming perfectionism is very closely tied to obsessive-compulsive disorders, anxiety disorders and phobias. For most of us mildly neurotic stitchers, this is not the case, but even the little bit of perfectionism and self-doubt that creeps into our creative psyches and stitching projects can makes us squirm. Here are some of the symptoms:
SYMPTOM: FEELING UNMOTIVATED AND CREATIVELY DRAINED
All of the happiness in anticipation we feel when we begin a new stitching project can quickly end up in the dumpster when we’re not getting the perfect results that we think we should. When we become so critical of our own work, or the anticipated criticism from our friends, family, or fellow stitchers, because our work isn’t “perfect” chances are that it will cripple our creativity is a given.
Rather than taking the time to stop, regroup, and perhaps do a little more stitching “staying in the moment’ practice and technique mastering, we immediately throw up our hands, agreeing with that little ogre inside of us that insists we are untalented and unable to create something worthwhile. The result? Lethargy and depression. When we beat ourselves up for not being perfect in our stitching, we can’t help but to feel creatively drained, sad, and unmotivated. Once we hit that level of pessimism, most of us just give up on the project altogether and stack it in our growing UFO pile, or plot along without passion just to finish the damned thing. Perfectionism assassinates enthusiasm.
SYMPTOM: OUR STITCHING WORK FEELS LIKE A SERIES OF FAILURES
There is nobody who starts out a creative project wanting to produce the very worst fiber art ever known to mankind, but sometimes we do! In order to be creative we have to be able to let go, take risks, and be willing to fail on every level. Creative failures is what should be expected of a the creative personality and the majority of their work!
When Picasso was finally able to paint the masterpiece he was proud of, do you think he talked about or dragged out all of his really crappy work and failures as reminder as to what a lousy artist he previously was? I doubt it. He focused on the most stunning result and left the multitudes of painted ‘failures’ behind. His goal was the excellence in his process not of any end result. How many shitty paintings do your think he painted during his creative process? How many average quilts had, Paula Nadelstern, Hollis Chatelain, and Sharon Schamber pieced before becoming quilting icons? How many skeins of yarn had Rita Weiss, Margaret Hubert, or Kaffe Fassett screwed up before being celebrated in the worlds of crochet and knitting? Where are all of the uninspired and unfinished pieces of linen stashed by noteworthy embroidery designers, Ruth Chandler, Janice Vaine or Maggie Bonanomi?
There is no marked creativity without the experience of mundane process, learning new technique, persistence and, most importantly, failure. When we try to be perfect in our stitching and in our fiber projects, we are murdering the very essence of creativity that we are desperately trying to tap into. The less perfect we are, the more creative we can be. The more we allow our project stink-bombs explode then fade away, the more we can allow our creativity to expand. To be perfect is to be fearful of failure. To be creative is to embrace failure and expand on it. Perfectionism massacres your creativity.
SYMPTOM: WE HAVE LOST OUR CREATIVE VISION
To be creative and a creative spirit, an artist has to have a vision. An artist’s vision needs to be wide and expansive then pared down so that the work and the art can manifest. Those who suffer from the “I Wanna Be Perfect Syndrome” begin editing their vision before they even allow themselves creative flights of fancy. Without allowing creative vision, or limiting your vision just to suit your comfort level, you are blinding yourself from seeing all of the wonderful, miraculous, healing, and exciting creativity that can be yours for the asking. Perfectionism will blind you. Perfectionism murders creative vision.
SYMPTOM: WE DON’T FEEL CREATIVELY SATISFIED
We have all experienced the feeling of pride and of satisfaction when we complete a project that challenged us creatively or that we have invested a lot of time and effort into creating. We creative still need an audience. Who hasn’t been alone in a room with their completed work and glanced over at it with the deep sense of achievement and gratification? When we are mindful of our creative process, when we enjoy that process, when we take time for our creative process, and when we can appreciate our process, our souls are filled. Creativity does that. Since the beginning of time man has been creative. Creativity is in our DNA. Creativity is who we are as human beings. Great creativity and accomplishment can feel like a profound soulful, and, for some, religious experience. When we strive for perfection rather than process in our creative endeavors we are robbing ourselves, and others, of experiencing that soulful connection to our work. Without the courage to open our souls and include the very creative spirit we were born with into our stitching, we will never be able to capture the spiritual growth, not to mention creative growth, that allowing yourself the freedom to create guarantees. Perfectionism snuffs out your creative impulses, spiritual growth and spiritual wisdom.
SYMPTOM: WE CAN’T FIND PLEASURE IN OUR PROJECTS OR PROCESS
Do you know of anyone who got into fiber art, stitching, crochet, tatting, rug coking, cross stitching, knitting, or any other creative passion because they thought they would be miserable creating it?
Let’s face it, trying to be perfect in our art is intimidating. Often times, when we get stuck creatively, we literally become imitated by the process and begin to shut down. Not only do we not enjoy what we’re doing, we begin to hate it. The stitching that we embarked on for pleasure starts feeling like the heavy cross of Calvary. When we let go of perfectionism in our craft, we can literally let go of all of the angst that we feel when there’s a mistake or the project’s not going the way we think it should, and begin to enjoy the process again. You don’t need to be perfect to find that happy spot within you. You don’t need to be perfect in order to enjoy your creative process or complete a challenging project. You don’t need ditch your happiness for your tormenting goal of perfection that keeps hitting you over the head like a Whack a Mole carnival game. Perfectionism executes any kind of creative pleasure.
SYMPTOM: OUR CRITICAL VOICE IS DEAFENING
The Slow Stitching Movement asks that you stay in the moment and focus on your project at hand while stitching in order to reap the benefits of improved health, improved spirituality, stable finances, and a balanced emotional life. If we can do that, everything but what we are creating at that moment disappears. As a perfectionist myself, I understand that this is a very difficult thing to do. I want to control the outcome. I want to control the process. I want to control everything.
While trying to stay in the stitching moment, perfectionism has a way of sneaking in – and in not-so-subtle ways. The voice of perfectionism is loud and intrusive. It is difficult to let go of the world around you and embrace the cognitive distractor that is your stitching, when deafening self-criticism and rowdy, searing experiences of a “less than” complex begin banging into, and cannibalizing your quiet time. Simply tell the noise to go away and continue on your merry creative process. Focus on your process.
A part of The Slow Stitching Movement is actually making peace with those voices who tell you you aren’t good enough and keep nagging you. When that voice is perfection, then you are sacrificing the very contentment you will feel when securely wrapped in the process of your limitless creativity. Perfectionism slaughters gratification.
These are just some of the symptoms of perfection. Others are mild to chronic procrastination, distracting yourself with anything and everything but working on your creative projects, squandering your time with texting, Facebook or twitter, or not having the “perfect” space and/or supplies to be creative. YIKES! I’m all of them.
The truth is, we are creating art. We are not curing cancer, screening for Ebola, running a space program, or designing a strategy to rid the world of terrorism. There is room for mistakes in creativity. As a matter of fact, mistakes and setbacks are encouraged. Our work does not have to be perfect by our own or anybody else’s standards. With great failures come great rewards.
I have heard it said that the only way to get to the other side of fire is to walk through it. The same is true perfectionism and the need to be perfect. There is only one way to get through it. Those of us who have found our creativity stifled by the need to be perfect, or so frightened of not being perfect that it renders us completely immobile, know that there is a way out. Pick up your sewing needle, your crochet hook, your knitting needles, or whatever it is that will get you to your next creative step and begin. Be aware that you are not perfect and forgive yourself for not being perfect (also don’t forget to thank the fiber-gods that you’re not doomed to that kind of hellish standard). Maybe just the acknowledgement is all it will take to free yourself of the burden of perfectionism in your creative work. You may not know how this new way to tackle your perfectionistic demons will end, but that’s not important. What is important is to begin and walk through the fire.
Up Next . . . . HINTS THAT OUR CREATIVE PERFECTIONISM IS ABOUT TO RUN AMUCK
The SLOW STITCHING MOVEMENT Webinar is now ON DEMAND!
At last! The much talked about SLOW STITCHING MOVEMENT webinar is now available ON DEMAND for download directly to your computer. This is a recording of the record-breaking webinar hosted by Mark Lipinski in June. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/1xE2l34
This is exactly what I go through!
Thank you, Mark, for your thoughtful blogs about creativity and the obstacles to it. Perhaps we need to replace the word “failure” with “experiment.” Experiment implies an unknown outcome. The end result is increased knowledge, which helps us make more informed choices the next time.
I love this idea! “Increased knowledge”…everyone should be in favor of that!
Amen. There are no failures, only happy accidents and learning experiences.
“only way to get to the other side of fire is to walk through it” I am trying to collect quotes for a journaling project (that I will probably never start, but hey!). This is my quote for today 🙂
Very well said. We all have to start somewhere, and comparing your work to that of someone who has been stitching for a lot longer is unrealistic. Like so many other persuits (tennis, running, driving, cooking) we all improve with practice.
“A part of The Slow Stitching Movement is actually making peace with those voices that tell you you aren’t good enough keep nagging you. When that voice is perfection, then you are sacrificing the very contentment you will feel when securely wrapped in the process of your limitless creativity. Perfectionism slaughters gratification”
AMEN!!!!! (I’m a recovering perfectionist)