I knew this newsletter would be a challenge for me when I started it. Publishing something once a month would mean consistency which in turn could mean that sometimes I wouldn’t feel like writing, wouldn’t know what to write, or maybe I’d fall into other traps, like not being able to finish, getting into a creative block, or not knowing when to pin down an idea.
And well, that’s exactly what happened to this month’s newsletter. Hence it’s already April while I’m posting this. I kept jumping from one subject to the next, not settling, continuously thinking about new ideas, nothing felt “good enough”. That’s when it clicked. Right there I fell into my own trap of perfectionism. And at the same time by falling into that trap I immediately knew what I had to write about. Perfectionism.
Perfectionism has many faces, so for this newsletter, I want to talk about the aspect of it where we’re unable to settle for anything. Where we keep on changing ideas, thinking we’ll always have something better, hopping from one thing to the next. Until, at some point, we end up with nothing at all.
When New Ideas Keep on Tempting You
If you also struggle with perfectionism then your brain will have you thinking that, when it starts to feel even somewhat uncomfortable about any potential failure, you need to be saved from it. And that’s when it says: “Hey! Here’s another *better* idea.” It’s all meant in a good way really, to shield you from harm. But in a creative process, this can actually really keep us from having that idea reach its full potential. And that cycle won’t just stop until we take back control.
In truth, yes there might always be something else, something better. But we can never get to the better if we don’t finish what we started, because we won’t learn how to get better. It often doesn’t matter where we start, as long as we just finish it. If we continuously flee our fear (the fear of it not being good enough) we will just keep running in the same cycle over and over.
It doesn’t matter what idea we choose, we can, if we want, work with anything. The moment we start hopping from one idea to the next we never get to experience all the levels of nuance there are in that one single idea.
How Painting on Canvas Forced Me to Finish
I rarely finished a drawing because I could create an unlimited amount without any consequences. I wasn’t actually using real-life canvasses that I’d eventually need to store, or rebuy, or that would sit around my house. Files are easy to delete and make. It can be done (almost) endlessly. So the urge to do that was stronger than the desire to actually finish it.
However, I’ve always had a sketchbook on the side and the first-ever baby steps I took towards dealing with something that I felt turned out “ugly” was by switching my pencil for a blue ballpoint pen. Which made erasing impossible. And there I was, forced to sit with my mistakes for the first time.
Now that I work with actual real-life art supplies, the way I approach my work is a whole lot different. I can’t just afford to throw away a canvas once I start it. I can’t just delete the sketch or the layers I put over it. But because of those “restrictions”, I learned to work with what I had even if I didn’t necessarily like or love it to begin with.
Don’t Always Trust Your First Reaction
You might end up thinking that it’s the worst thing you ever made, that’s okay, because it won’t be the last thing you’ll ever make. We often feel like we have to end up loving what we make but I don’t think that’s quite the right approach. I feel like a better goal would be: wanting to end up growing from what we make.
It’s okay and maybe even desirable to sometimes be uncomfortable in your process, it’s okay to question yourself. Because this helps us grow. As both artists and (human)beings.
A Little Guide
I used to be a hardcore perfectionist and so I know there’s no one-way fix for perfectionism. It’s small steps at a time. But to give you a bit of a clearer view as to how I’d approach this I wrote down what goes on in my mind when I go through a creative process:
An amazing new idea pops into my head
I work on it, draft it, sketch it out (wonderful💫)
I start to actually take the idea seriously and begin taking it from a sketch to a more finished version
I get to the awkward phase; that phase where nothing looks and feels right and I start to question why I even started it 🧐 (totally normal but this is where it gets tricky)
My brain comes to the “rescue” by suggesting a new idea (so I won’t have to feel uncomfortable for much longer if I choose to go along, it whispers in my ear: “I’ll make sure you’ll never have to feel like you failed 🥰”)
Now I get to have two options:
Accept the new idea because I long to feel comfortable again (Continue the cycle and there goes another idea on top of my never finished pile)
Continue pushing through the awkward phase and finish the work (Break the cycle, my pile of finished accomplishments grows! My skills improve, I feel more certain about my next work, and I took control over my perfectionism instead of the other way around)
While I was writing this newsletter I chose option 1 about four times, my frustration grew, I got annoyed. Until I realized what was going on and I took back control and chose option 2 after all.
Look, I’m rooting for you to also take the second option.
If I hadn’t this newsletter would still be an unfished draft. I questioned myself many times while writing this. And I still feel like it’s not perfect, because that’s exactly what it is; not perfect. And that’s fine. What matters is: I finished it.
There’s not one way to go about perfectionism, and all our experiences will be different. I shared a fragmant of what it’s like for me to deal with it and how I’m slowly overcoming it, I hope that if you take anything from it, it will also be helpful in your process. 💖
I encourage you to continue challenging yourself, to not run away from discomfort. In time, recognizing perfectionism becomes easier. It might never fully leave, but at some point, you’ll be the one who is in control and not the other way around.
Thank you so much for reading! ⭐️Always feel free to leave a comment or send me a message, I would love to hear your thoughts. 🦦
Happy creating! 🌞