“I’m a perfectionist,” you say with a touch of pride mingled with shyness. But is your perfectionism holding you back? Quite possibly. You see, a perfectionist won’t try anything new unless they can be ‘perfect’ at it. We are quite literally embarrassed by our own imperfections.
When we try doing a new type of exercise we’re thinking: “Oh heavens. Am I doing this right? Why is that guy looking at me? I’m making a fool of myself! Maybe I should just do what I’m good at”.
It’s even worse when it comes to creative projects. We stand poised, paintbrush, pen or musical instrument in hand and what’s going through our heads? “What if I mess up? Is anyone watching me? How should I even start this? What if it turns out mediocre?” Often, the fear overcomes us. We put the pen and paper, guitar or canvas aside and tell ourselves we’re waiting for inspiration. Yeah, right!
But we know that perfection doesn’t exist!
We’ll even say that perfection is boring. It is. So what’s with the fear of imperfection? We don’t expect others to be perfect – why should we be so unkind to ourselves? We’ll even have a preference for handmade items BECAUSE they’re a bit wonky and interesting. But when it comes to our own work, our desire for perfection paralyses us. We daren’t even try.
It’s good to aim high but…Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to aim high, but if things don’t come out just as you planned, you also don’t need to flog yourself. I battle with my perfectionism. And I see I’m not the only one. I found a research paper
on perfectionism that says we perfectionists get depressed and stressed out easily.
Once, I knocked off a quick mood painting with black watercolour. I was just messing around. The brush strokes are rough, the proportions are all wrong. I try to keep it hidden. One day, a friend was flipping through my sketchbook.
“I love this”! She cried.
“Say what?” I was incredulous.
Yup! My most imperfect effort was the single thing in my sketchbook that really impressed her. Why? Well here’s the odd thing. She loved it because it was imperfect. It had character, it had spontaneity. Perfection? No. Personality? Yes!
Wabi-Sabi: the art of imperfection
The Japanese celebrate imperfection in the creative philosophy known as wabi-sabi. The story of its origin goes like this:
A young man wanted to become a tea master, so he approached a master and asked to be his apprentice. The tea master said that the young man should tidy his yard and if he did a good job, he might be given the opportunity to learn.
The young man went to work, raking up every fallen leaf and tidying everything until it was perfect. When he was finished, he stopped to survey the results. It didn’t look right to him. So he went over to a blooming cherry tree and shook it so that some blossoms would fall randomly to the ground.And so, legend has it, the art of imperfection known as wabi-sabi was born.
Wabi-sabi celebrates transience, imperfection and the incomplete. It’s a rebellion against perfection, and in that sense, it is a ‘perfect’ and beautiful revolution in the way we think.
Which brings us to this week’s challenge
Here’s your brief. Create something imperfect, transient and incomplete – or any one of these three things. Do it on purpose. If by some nearly impossible chance you create something that’s perfect, mess it up a bit.
Your project can cover a few minutes, a few hours or even a few days. The scale of what you do is up to you. Work with any medium: arrange a few flowers, make a wonky earthenware pot, go hunting for a twisted and gnarled piece of wood or a stained and rusted bit of metal, daub out a painting with a few exuberant brush strokes.
Don’t go looking at Japanese examples and try to emulate them (unless you want to). Be completely free and uninhibited.
As for your fitness program, try something new. Take on a class where others will see your imperfections and tell yourself you don’t care. Go to yoga and be the stiffest person in the class. Whatever you always wanted to try and were afraid to look bad at – tackle it. If you’re low on inspiration, go and turn some cartwheels in the back yard. Laugh at your beautiful imperfection!
Whatever your project, I challenge you to be perfectly imperfect. Good luck!