Are you tired of feeling like you can’t start projects because you know they won’t turn out perfect? You can keep holding yourself back, or you could learn some affirmations for perfectionism and decide to enjoy the process.
Perfectionism always rears its ugly head when it comes to creative pursuits. There are a lot of reasons for this. Obviously, if we create something, we want it to live up to the idea for it we have in our head. But a lot of first drafts and initial attempts never do.
There are other reasons I think we’re conditioned into the idea of perfectionism.
For starters, the education system focuses more on grades and test scores than actually learning. And while I will concede that proving you’ve learned something may have value, understanding how you learn and knowing how to create the conditions you need to learn is more important than test scores.
If you don’t agree with me, think about how many situations in your everyday life can be tackled with the skills you used to succeed on standardized tests. Not many. In fact, it’s almost like life isn’t a multiple choice test and you just gotta know how to react and roll with the punches…
And when you look at the historical rise of standardized tests and see how they have been used as a tool of white supremacy, it’s odd that we keep using them.
But I digress.
What I’m saying is that being raised in an environment that decides your value based on first attempts at understanding isn’t the sort of environment that enables someone to create work that matters. Because work that matters needs space to grow and ideate and become what it’s meant to be. And you can’t do that when the first attempt is a failure.
But even as you read that and probably agree with it, so many of you will say, “But I need my perfectionism. It keeps me from making crap.”
Let’s talk about why that isn’t true.
What’s So Bad About Perfectionism?
Maybe you think your perfectionism is something to brag about. I’ve known a lot of people who think it is.
Perfectionism isn’t something you’re born with. In fact, if you were a perfectionist when you learned to speak or walk, you would’ve never continued because I guarantee you weren’t great at it.
Perfectionism is learned. And it’s a coping mechanism.
You were belittled or made fun of or discouraged at one point in your life when you tried to share a thing you created. It happened a few times, I’m willing to bet. And over time, you developed perfectionism as a way to deal with that. Instead of putting yourself in the situation where you may be discouraged again, you became a perfectionist.
You decided you were going to only make perfect stuff so no one could make fun of you again. Only, you aren’t making anything, are you? Because you can’t make perfect stuff, can you?
So in order to cope with the criticism, you’re just not going to do the thing because it won’t be perfect.
Me and Perfectionism: A Tale of Mirth and Woe
I don’t think a single person who goes through a creative degree program (writing, art, music, dance, etc.) or extensively studies the work of others in their chosen craft can avoid perfectionism. Myself included.
For me, I knew I would never be great when I was in college. Creative writing programs are full of people who are ready to tell you that you’ll never make art that matters. And for the most part, until I entered college, I never thought I had to make art that mattered.
I cut my teeth on high fantasy novels and romances. I wanted to write stories that people could fall into. I wanted to make people feel the way I felt when I read writers like Mary Stewart.
But by the end, I wanted to write literary fiction, as if the English Department had beaten all the joy out of me. And I tried. I really did.
Only, I couldn’t get it right. Did you know that a twenty-something may struggle to write really deep, meaningful high art shit when they haven’t had enough life experience to figure out what they even think about life yet?
So I spent years trying to write something that mattered only to realize I couldn’t. I couldn’t fit into that writerly mold. In addition to not writing, I also stopped reading because I couldn’t bear to read anything that was good. Good books confirmed I was a failure.
It was a weird spiral mixed with burn out and depression and anxiety. And I’m only now coming out of it.
But I’ll tell you this. The one thing that got me out of it was writing. I made this blog and started sharing. I started putting fiction out there. And now, I feel like maybe I could write anything if I wanted because I don’t strive for perfection anymore.
Affirmations for Perfectionism
So the next time you find yourself giving in to perfectionism or trying to set the perfect conditions for everything, remember taking imperfect action is the best way to make progress on anything. And then, take some of these affirmations and let them guide you:
- Progress, not perfection.
- Done is better than perfect.
- I’m supposed to be here. (Yes. You are definitely supposed to be here.)
- Learning from mistakes is more valuable than beginner’s luck.
- I don’t worry about what I can’t control.
- I only set goals I can work toward.
- Success is what I define it to be for each project.
- Riding the wave of messy is more important than looking perfect.
- Other people’s opinions of my work don’t matter.
- External validation is not why I create.
- I can’t control how others will perceive what I do.
- Talent isn’t real and everyone has to work hard and struggle.
- Write first, edit later.
- I get to make as many mistakes as I want.
- Everyone gets a fresh start when they need it.
- First drafts are for editing.
- Writing is rewriting.
- I don’t have to be great, I just have to be me.
- Life is too short for blank pages.
- Messes create magic.
How Do You Stop Perfectionism?
Do you also struggle with perfectionism? What do you tell yourself to keep creating? How has perfectionism held you back?