Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Knife of Perfectionism

This morning, I read something on the lovely Brainpickings website by the fierce and kind Pema Chodron. This is what she says: "The problem is that the desire to change is fundamentally a form of aggression toward yourself. The other problem is that our hangups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth. Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom."

This feels true, although I don't understand it completely. It resonates with this growing part of me that is learning to accept her first tries and is not so hung up on making things perfect. This is also that part of me that is learning to trust herself and her own perceptions. It is learning that my first feelings, my first thoughts and my first hunches are often true.

It is second-guessing that gets me into trouble. It is overthinking that stops me in my tracks. There are times that we need to consider, need to think. But there are also times when our feelings and thoughts swirl up in a cloud and block our view of what it is that we need to do next.

They cause us to doubt whether we are moving in the right direction or what we are doing is indeed enough.

This morning, I read another piece on Brainpickings that talks about Picasso and his thoughts on intuition and how creativity works. Something in it stuck out for me. In the piece, he is quoted talking about Matisse whose work he admired professionally and who was also a personal friend. Matisse followed a painfully methodical creative process, and this is what Picasso thought about it: "Matisse does a drawing, then he recopies it. He recopies it five times, ten times, each time with cleaner lines. He is persuaded that the last one, the most spare, is the best, the purest, the definitive one; and yet, usually it’s the first. When it comes to drawing, nothing is better than the first sketch."

Picasso thinks of the first creative intuition as the best. What we are alighting upon is the work of instinct, of our purest senses. When we re-do it to fit some convention, we might be draining the juice right out of it. That's what I am learning about intuition, that the purest intuition is about learning to trust your own perceptions. My research is showing me that just like prolific artistes, successful entrepreneurs and business-people are ones that are most in touch with their original thoughts, with their own nuances of feelings.

What perfectionism does is take a knife to many of our most original, most intuitive ideas. It tells us that we are not enough, that we'll never be enough, that we have to do things over and over again to get to something of value. It tells us that we have little or no talent, that we have to search desperately for answers, that these answers will always remain out of our reach.

My favorite teacher and kindred spirit Julia Cameron tells us that perfectionism is not the pursuit of the best in us, it is the pursuit of the worst. Perfectionism is different from striving for excellence.We can become excellent at what we do only if we are willing to make mistakes, if we are willing to keep trying and learning. But perfectionism blocks this process. It brings everything to a grinding halt. We are stuck when we belabor over something we think needs to be just right before we are allowed to move ahead.

Nothing needs to be perfect. Nothing needs to be won. We need to keep doing, keep moving ahead. The movement does not need to follow some pre-set routine. We are allowed to take two steps forward, one step back. We are allowed to make good things and not-so-good ones. We are allowed to do things because we love them, and not because we need to please anybody by shaping it into some accepted form.

We can choose to live with Julia's heartening motto: "Progress, not perfection."  We can choose that we want to grow, and not be tied with a noose to this idea of never feeling good enough.

If you are on the same path as me, think about how letting go of perfectionism would help you. Would it allow you to move ahead in your work, so you can actually find a new perspective instead of getting stuck at an earlier point? Or maybe it would free up your energy so that you can spend it on things that matter instead of frittering it away? 

You and I, we both need to come to this place, so we can release our hesitation and step inside our work and our lives. We need to stop boxing ourselves in and making ourselves small. We are seeing the rents the knife of perfectionism has made in our lives and we are taking it out now, once and for all.  

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