The Perils of Perfectionism

self improvement

 

On the blank canvas I saw a majestic, proud Eagle, wings outspread in magnificence glory. Perched on his chosen spot, his view spanned the countryside, searching high and low, king of the skies. In my mind he was perfect. He inspired awe to look at, and made me feel excited as I gathered my brushes and paint. I could see the colors that I would choose. Just the right blues, the cool toned and the warm toned browns, the Payne’s Gray for blending. I mixed and I worked, the large sweeping strokes, the tiny painstaking touches.

I worked for hours. I came back day after day. I put him aside. I worked on trouble spots that didn’t match the image in my mind.

I brought him to California on vacation hoping the ocean air would inspire the majesty I needed to flow through my fingers and out of the brush. I finished it sitting in the warm California sun.

I brought him home and sat him on my art desk. And left him there. I haven’t picked up a paintbrush since.

He isn’t the Eagle of my mind. When I look at him, I see the flaws, the imperfections. The way the blues and the browns don’t flow together properly. The way the wings on one side are much sharper than the other. The list of flaws is long. You don’t need to hear them all. I abandoned him. Worse then that, I abandoned myself. The disappointment ran deep and I just lost the momentum to paint. I wasn’t in the mood. I ran out of time. Something else- writing- was giving me more positive feedback so I drifted over there. It was nicer there.

I hadn’t realized I had done it. Sometimes we do these things to ourselves and it isn’t a conscious gesture. We don’t have an outward temper tantrum and throw the painting down and say, “That’s it, I hate my Eagle, and I’m never painting again!”  We just drift. Just suffer a little disappointment in something and drift slowly, like a gentle current in the opposite direction. Then one day we look around and notice we are far away. Sometimes it’s a hobby. One day we are a painter or dancer or runner, and then it has been months or years since we picked up a brush, or danced or ran. Sometimes it’s a relationship or job. We just begin to move away. We don’t even remember why.

The other day a friend e-mailed me a picture of a cat. I needed it for a story line I was writing on Escaping Reality. The expression on the cat’s face caught my interest and I started drawing his face. Then a pen and Ink. Then the idea of doing a pen and ink watercolor popped into my mind and I suddenly realized I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in over a month. I couldn’t think of a single reason why not. I love to paint! I have plenty of time to paint. It’s summer! The perfect time to relax with brush in hand!  Only then did I think of the Eagle. Only then did I realize I had been a victim of the perfectionism drift.

I had high expectations of that Eagle. I had a perfect vision of how he was going to look in my mind. When my ability didn’t match up to that vision, I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or just didn’t at that time, cut myself any slack. I decided on some level that I’m just not a very good painter anyway so what’s the point. I’m obviously not very good at painting Eagles.

All because my Eagle wasn’t perfect.

Well…you all can tell it’s an eagle right? It’s not like I’m expecting someone to buy it. I just paint for the fun of it, for relaxation, for a hobby, so why was I acting like I suddenly was UNWORTHY of a hobby if I couldn’t do it PERFECTLY???

Hello, my name is Wendi and I am a recovering perfectionist.

This is an issue I have battled with over the years my entire life. Getting perfect grades in school, being the *perfect* friend, the *perfect* daughter, the *perfect* wife, then the pendulum would swing to the other side of “forget it; If I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not doing it AT ALL. I QUIT.” You would know that if you looked at my desk. It is either perfectly spotless or it is a mess. When it is spotless, I won’t let someone move even a PAPERCLIP on it. Because once it’s messy again, I just give up, until the next time I clean it. Then it starts all over again.

It doesn’t make me proud to tell you that. In my defense, I will share that I have come a long way up this hill. The journey has been paved with many scars and battle wounds. Many of you have heard me say that I am a two time high school drop out. What I might not have mentioned is that I was on the Honor Roll. Both times. YEP…I’ve had a long hard climb learning how NOT to quit, how not to have to live the perfect life. How there is no such thing. I’ll say this, making a million mistakes and failing a lot does help you to get over yourself. It’s one cure for being a perfectionist. Not the easiest way. But it is a cure!

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly
~Robert Kennedy

So when I catch myself still doing things like quitting on my painting for not having a perfect Eagle, or quit running because I’m getting discouraged for being so slow, or get frustrated because it’s summer and I can’t seem to keep the house as clean with all these kids around and my schedule isn’t working out quite the way I thought it would or the vision I had of how this summer was going to be the very best one ever or that there wasn’t going to be A SINGLE WEED IN THE GARDEN OVER MY DEAD BODY OR ELSE…

I just have to sit back and take a deep breath.

I’m not perfect and I can’t quit. I can’t let the pendulum swing to either side. I have to take each day as it comes and know that it’s good enough. The house isn’t perfect. The kids aren’t perfect. My art isn’t perfect and my life isn’t perfect. But it’s good enough. As long as I keep on going, one step at a time, being realistic and doing my best and never give up, I have a perfectly good chance of being very successful at whatever I do. Here is the secret it has taken me most of my life to learn. I am more than happy to share it with you here.

Persistence is better then Perfection.

It’s that simple…and that hard.

 

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