The cure for perfectionism

Hello, friends. Yesterday, my four-year-old was on the brink of tears because the picture he was drawing failed to live up to the picture in his head. I watched him and thought, “Oh, my darling. You too?”

Don’t get me wrong: I am very glad and grateful to live in a world filled with perfectionists. I wouldn’t have the courage to drive a car or heat my house or, generally, live my life, if the world were maintained by the casual and the feckless. Still, I feel for the boy.

We had a chat about how even talented artists can’t always create what they see in their heads, how professional musicians can’t always play what they hear inside. And I mentioned, casually, that I can’t always write what I want, either.

It was oddly liberating, admitting that to a child. It was useful, too, articulating what’s been bogging me down with Rivals in the City. And because I was talking to a child, I had to frame it gently. And that was perhaps most useful of all: the quiet, matter-of-fact acknowledgement that even a finished work will be imperfect, will not quite attain the vision I had for it. And that’s acceptable, too.

I offered my son a parent’s clichés: effort counts; practice equals progress; if you give up, you’ll never find out what you’re capable of. Banal as I sounded to my own ears, I thought the clichés were right, too.

How about you, friends? Are you perfectionists, or happy-go-lucky approximators? How do you deal with perfectionism?

Bookmark and Share

Tags: ,

10 Responses to “The cure for perfectionism”

  1. Ellen Lindow says:

    I’m an approximator by temperament and inheritance. My father’s motto, and now mine, is “100 years from now, no one will know the difference.” That doesn’t mean I don’t stress over certain things, or want to get things just right. My passion is fiber arts, knitting and quilting, and I will start over and rip out as often as it takes to get it to my satisfaction. Sometimes others watch and find it painful when I rip out 5 or 6 inches of knitting to correct an error. But it’s all part of the creative process for me, forward and backwards.

    You might want to show your budding artist pictures of Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Van Gogh kept painting sunflowers over and over. They’re all beautiful. They’re all different. They’re in fields and vases and different light. Perhaps Van Gogh couldn’t get it quite like he was seeing in his head either and kept trying over and over.

  2. Oh, I am painfully perfectionist. About everything. This is one of the reasons I was a terrible teacher and why I gave it up.

  3. Michelle Gibson says:

    Well, you know the answer here. I’m SURE that my son got his perfectionism from some outside source… certainly none of that in our house. :)

    Being a parent for me means being much more accepting of good enough. Good enough is often just plain great, now, which is also liberating. (Now, you can please stop laughing at me.)

  4. Mara A. says:

    I am a perfectionist through and through, and I still don’t know how to deal with it. Depending on my mood, sometimes when something doesn’t turn out the way I want it to, I am able to shrug my shoulders and say, “Ah, well, you tried, and it really isn’t all that bad; just not exactly what you wanted.” But the majority of the time, I shake my head and say, “Try again; it’s not good enough!” With writing, I keep in mind that I am not trying to please myself, but the characters in my story, and if they are happy with what I’ve written, then I’m happy with it.

  5. Perfection is such a tricky goal. When is it perfect? As a musician, so many things can vary a performance, from an out-of-tune piano, to a coughing audience member, and even the rattle of the cough drop wrapper that others thrust into their hands. The words we put on paper are a whole other matter, but the important part is that we are brave enough to pen them.

  6. Ying says:

    So many perfectionists! A few thoughts: Ellen, you say you’re an approximator, but you sound perfectionist when it comes to fiber arts. Maybe you’re that rare breed: a perfectionist who can prioritize and knows when best to tie herself in knots (pun totally intended)? Patrick, Michelle, and Mara, I hear you. I’ve become decreasingly perfectionist as I get older, but I’d still like to be able to let go of a lot of petty things. And Alisha: yes, yes, yes to your point about courage! Here’s to courage and a sense of balance for all of us.

  7. Grace says:

    I’m totally a perfectionist! I have so much trouble just stopping whatever it is I’m working on and making myself that its good enough.

  8. Ying says:

    Absolutely, Grace. That’s why deadlines are so handy!

  9. Sahaj says:

    Do you know approximately when Rivals in the City will be published? I just can’t wait! I recently bought the entire Agency series and keep reading them over and over again. So excited for the fourth book!

  10. Ying says:

    I’m afraid I don’t have a pub date yet, Sahaj. I’m still writing the book, so it’ll be at least another 6 to 9 months, sad to say. I hope you find it worth the wait!

Leave a Reply