Perfectionism, Creativity, and Slow Stitching
Personality Traits That Signal Your Perfectionism is About to Spin Out of Control
- Your family and friends tease you about never finishing any of your creative projects.
- The members of your stitching groups and quilting guilds wonder why you never bring any of your work to share with the group.
- You have stopped attending Stitch and Bitch’s, quilt shows, hook in’s, and even your volunteer stitching meetings, and haven’t been heard from in some time.
- You find buying all of the supplies for your creative goals is much more exciting than finishing the creative project you’ve dreamed of doing.
- Every time you see someone else’s, embroidery, knitting, crochet, patchwork or rug hooking, you wonder why these people have the audacity to brag when you know (and everybody else does, too) that the work isn’t so good.
- You find yourself trapped by creative blocks everywhere you turn and the less you do, the less you even try to do.
- You can’t put your finger on exactly why, but you sense that you’re feeling guilty about every little thing.
- You have big dreams for huge and wonderful creative projects… You just don’t start them.
- You have more UFOs in your stash than Starbucks sells Venti’s.
You may not recognize it, and there may be several reasons why any of the above statements are true for a creative person, but if you know in your heart (and head) you are living out any of the above examples of self-sabotage and don’t know why, it just might be because an avalanche of your perfectionism is about to fall and crumble all around you.
Anyone creative personality who is also a Type-A casualty, high achiever, or takes great pride in doing all creative things well – or at least much, much better than everyone else – might be confusing creating exemplary work with doing perfect work when it comes to their stitching. And that can be the source of your feeling creatively shipwrecked, as there isn’t much that can take the wind out of your sails than the feeling you must produce only quality and wonderful stitching art without dropping a stitch, ripping out a seam, or having perfectly stitched backs to your embroidery or cross stitch.
One thing that a lot of perfectionists have in common is that they don’t think they are, or at least won’t cop to the fact that, they are perfectionists at all. Yes, they know they have silly quirks and a million excuses for doing, or not doing, what they should be creating with their stitching, knitting, tatting, or whatever. But they may not be in touch with their need for perfection at all.
The other type of perfectionist are the Rita Lipinski’s (my tortured mother) who wore her self-aggrandizing perfectionism like a bejeweled crown. She was proud of it, and totally unconscious of the havoc she created with everyone around her. I am still haunted by, “there is a place for everything and everything in it’s place,” or “if you can’t do it right, then don’t do it at all.” It was never “fine the way it is” and always, “let me help you with that . . . “ and “I know you got the 98%, why not 2 more points?” (And you wonder why I spent years on ‘the couch’).
In this part of my series on slow stitching and perfectionism, I want to arm you with the warning signs that your Little Mr./Miss Perfect routine may be about to cause your creativity and the benefits of stitching with focus and purpose to whirl into a non-productive, self-loathing free-for-all.
Are you a Stitch Chaser? I have found there are a couple of kinds of creative people in this world: The kind who love and are satisfied with having reached a creative goal, or the type of creative personality who enjoys the dream and the pursuit of their creative goals much better than ever actually finishing (or sometimes starting) a project.
Perfectionists tend to get caught up in the flurry of planning, purchasing supplies, mapping out their strategies, sharing their ideas with other people, and yet not really getting past that point so that they can realize their creative dreams after all of their prep work. Many of these people laugh it off and call it their “ADD personality” but if they would scratch just a little deeper, they might find that this behavior is actually a way of fending themselves from a colossal self-judged disappointment when the end result of their creative vision, at least in their eyes, is less-than-perfect. A true perfectionist seems to see only the end result, a perfect piece or stitching or patchwork or weaving, and not benefits of all of the time, their creative growth, and the benefits of diving into their creative process that leads to their end result.
Are you a Sleepwalker? If you find yourself feeling more and more tired, fatigued, physically drained, or sluggish, you might be showing some signs of the frustrated creative perfectionist.
Unconscious perfectionists often struggle with even small creative projects. Little stitching projects take longer and longer to complete, and they might even have a problem with concentrating, focusing, or making decisions around their creative stitching.
Are you a CelebriStitcher? We have all heard the slogan “go big or go home.” For the stitchers and creative personality who may suffer from the curse of perfectionism, that slogan can easily become, “I’m the best, or I isn’t doing it.”
If you are the type of person who won’t even pick up a needle, rug hook, knitting needle, or any other tool for your creative stitching before you have convinced yourself that you are already a master at something you may not even know that much about, then you are already self-sabotaging because of your need to be the envied and perfect craftsperson with perfect results. You have to be the star of the show, or there will be no-show at all, damn it!
Are you a Procrastinator? Procrastination is a classic sign of the perfectionist. So frightened of not being perfect, the perfectionist will put off any and all projects that might cause them any discomfort or potential embarrassment. And so the procrastinator only dreams of their stitching accomplishments – while they organize their kitchen drawers, trim the bushes, go shopping, or insist on an immaculately clean home before they can begin anything, instead.
When you’re To Do list keeps getting longer and longer and your actually finishing anything on that list keeps getting shorter and shorter, you very well might be setting the stage for a perfectionist’s drama at the OK Corral.
Are You Not Seeing in Color? Perfectionists have a hard time seeing any abstractions in their day-to-day living. It’s either all good or all bad, either perfect or a messy failure. Everything seems to be either black or white.
One thing that I’ve learned with age (although I’ve just turned 30, myself) is that almost everything in this life falls somewhere “in-between” the two polar extremes. Those stitchers who simply cannot bear to accept anything from themselves, or other people, that is less than perfect have set themselves up for a mountain of disappointment.
Are you a Dream Stitcher? We dream about what our lives would be like if we were truly the great stitching artist that we would like to be – or imagine being. We dream of ribbons wins at shows, of mastering stitching techniques that we’ve never tried, of learning new and dynamic stitching skills in our art, and yet never make any kind of attempt toward making any of those dreams a reality. We, as perfectionists, can’t fail in our dreams. When we dream, our work is perfect – always perfect — and we can control the outcome of our creativity without having to risk anything. (Isn’t it all about control anyway, really?)
If you find your self dreaming about your stitching rather than actually picking up your stitching tools to engage in some creative process work, then it might be your need and desire to be perfect at the root of your out of sorts behavior.
Are You Caught in an Unrealistic Vortex? As perfectionists we are not always able to see that the creative masterpiece we plan to create is unrealistic. Perfectionists often set their goals way above the mark of what the “average bear” might consider a goal.
If your creative goal is way above your experience to reach that goal, then of course your stash will be wasted and your end result will be less than stellar – but you knew that, didn’t you. Perfectionists can always find a way to undermine their creativity.
Are You A No-Show? Avoidance is a terrific way for perfectionists to “duck out” before they are “found out.” If you’re not showing up to guild meetings and groups you used to actively be a part of, it could be those passive (or not so passive) feelings of being a perfectionist that are keeping you ‘safe’ at home. After all, if no one sees you no one will know that you’re either not doing any stitching at all, are in a huge, dark slump, or that what you are stitching is not up to your perfectionistic par.
Are You a Hater? One thing that perfectionists are super good at is perfecting the art of self-loathing. They hate or are embarrassed by almost every creative thing that they create or embark on. Rather than cop to and own a low self-esteem, perfectionists tend to project their feelings of worthlessness onto, among other things, their creative outlets, their creative stitching, their creative process, and projects. Not only is nothing they do worth anything, a perfectionist may often feel that they are not worth much in general. If you find yourself being usually hard on yourself (you know, even harder than the usual never-to-be-pleased hard) then you may be about to take the perfectionist’s walk of shame.
Are You a World-Class Critic? I have never bought, even for a minute, that critical people say critical things unconsciously or without thinking. If perfectionists can’t please themselves, then why on God’s green earth would you even think that they are not going to go after your work? Let’s be honest here. If you are a perfectionist (or are wondering if you might be) you know, in your heart when you are super-critical of other people’s work or have been accused of being a critical personality, in general. You know that a stray thread, an untucked piece of wool, or a slightly uneven blanket stitch is enough to drive you to your hidden bottle of Xanax. If you find that your endless take-no-prisoners criticisms of every knitted or sewn piece of fabric has become nauseating even to yourself (but you just can’t help it), then prepare thyself for a dive in the perfectionist’s pool of chaos – because it’s coming.
Are You Guilt Ridden? Free floating guilt that may hit you from out of the blue, any time of the day or night, is something that any card-carrying or newbie perfectionist is familiar with. There is guilt for dreaming instead of doing, wasting time or wasting supplies on something ‘bad’ and not “perfect.” Guilt rears its ugly head because you haven’t returned calls or visited with your stitching buddies in ages. You feel guilty for not finishing anything, spending cash on things you won’t use, or starting projects with nothing to show for it when you set it aside. If guilt has been kicking your behind, it could be a sign that your perfectionism is getting in the way of your creative life.
If you were able to answer ‘yes’ to one or more of the above questions, you probably already know you have some issues with self-esteem, self-sabotage, avoidance, unrealistic expectations, guilt, or procrastination. That said, you might have already guessed that your creativity and stitching could be being held back by your need for perfection – even a little bit of perfection. And sadly, you might have already figured out that your once fun, engaging, soulful and life-changing/affirming stitching is at risk or is already long gone (let’s get it back).
In the next and final installment in this series about perfectionism, creativity, and slow stitching, I’ll give you some tips, tricks and ideas for reigning in your perfectionism and for taking back your creativity by learning how to stitch productively, proficiently, and without a lot of that self-nagging judgment you’ve become used to – all by using the tenets of the slow stitching movement.
Please feel free to comment or ask questions (I never mind being challenged).
Until next time, keep it slow.