I used to be a perfectionist. Or at least I thought I was. What I really was, was a procrastinator – in the guise of a perfectionist. Everything had to be “just right” or I couldn’t/wouldn’t move forward.
I would buy greeting cards and never send them because I needed to craft the “exact, right message” (truth told: I’ve got two in the queue right now), thereby missing out on an important opportunity to tell someone, in a timely fashion, that they’re being thought of on the occasion of their birthday, for example. The cards would languish and gather dust and eventually be forgotten altogether, until the next birthday came around.
In retrospect (and presently, if I’m to be honest), my perfectionism/procrastination operates in tandem with a fear of not being good enough or of being rejected because of it. Anyone who practices an art form resides at a high level of vulnerability, an excruciating prospect for a person trained to be everything but.
When I craft a story, for example, I can go into it countless times and find elements to re-work each time. And that’s after having left it behind, thinking that it was finished. Eventually, one has to walk away, satisfied that the work is “good enough”, a troubling prospect indeed when one knows that further refinements are always at hand.
Although a famous filmmaker once said, “I never finish a film. I simply abandon it,” I find the use of the word “abandon” a bit harsh.
My writing is my offspring; my stories, commentary, musings of wit and wisdom and tales from the dark side are part and parcel of everything that I am, and as such, I would never abandon them. To do so would be to abandon myself.
The practice of surrender, along with the practice of one’s chosen craft, is an artistic pursuit, and, a high form of spiritual practice, I have found. I like to think that I’m sending my pieces off to the first day of kindergarten, in the hopes that all goes well. And it always does.
Years ago, the poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen found himself forced back into touring, as a result of having his every red cent pirated out of his bank accounts by an old “friend” who was also acting as his manager. Adding a mortal blow, she was holding hostage boxes and boxes of Cohen’s writings in her garage.
On the day that those boxes were returned to him, Leonard Cohen cried. Anyone who practices an art form with everything they’ve got can understand why.
My friend, Judi Knight, has been instrumental in helping me to “get things done”, perfectly or not. She is a powerhouse who has morphed through three, successful professions, before settling on her present one, master website designer.
“Sometimes good enough has to be good enough so you can get things done,” she counsels in her big-sisterly way.
I chose to apply Judi’s wise counsel when I undertook this spree. Removed from the onset was the onus of perfectionism. Productivity would rule my days! With the exception of two stories from my memoir, these posts have been born spur-of-the-moment, which can never be perfect – only lived.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get out a birthday card to a dear friend whose 91st birthday is tomorrow. His is one of those cards that never got sent last year.
But before I go, I’ll leave you with some sprinklings of gold dust that I’ve learned over the years. All apply to writing, and, to life.
Perfectionism is the enemy of productivity.
The pursuit of “being good” sounds the death knell to creativity.
Process, not product, in all things.