The Perfection Trap

It seems like it’s everywhere these days: People seem to expect to just magically be perfect at something without practice or study.  I don’t really know what’s behind it—or even if I’m just noticing it because I have several clients who expect themselves to be perfect right ‘out of the chute’.

What I do know is that it’s not only a futile endeavor but a trap.  It’s one of those handy tools that our Inner Critic voice uses.  You have heard me speak of that, and I will continue to do so.  Frankly, I think helping people to stop giving their Inner Critics ‘air time‘ is one of the most important things I do… whether it’s about money or not.  This perfection thing is just another diversion in the Critic’s Toolkit.

Somehow many of us feel like we are supposed to be able to be perfect without practice or effort.  I beg to differ with that.  Even the things that we are ‘good‘ at, or have some innate talent for, require practice, enhancement, care—or we either lose them or they get stale.

This desire to be instantly successful and perfect at something is everywhere in our lives.  We should just know how to write a blog, cook a great meal, play an instrument, or manage our money, right?  Um, no.  All those things and many more take practice—lots of practice.

It’s not even just a matter of patience.  It seems to be more about expectations.  We expect that we will magically be able to do something without struggle or effort.

One side of my family was full of artists, and I do some art myself.  Art is a particularly good example of a skill where you have to give yourself the time and patience to fail, experiment, and just mess up.

Long ago I was taking a beginning drawing class at a local college.  A young guy in his twenties had the easel next to me.  We were doing some kind of sketching, I don’t remember the actual objects.  What I do remember is that he kept drawing a bit and then wadding the paper up and throwing it on the floor.  There were grunts, gnashing, and colorful language that accompanied this endeavor.  The instructor noticed the pile and came over to talk to him.  I both love and agree wholeheartedly with what she told him.  She explained that every art piece goes through a very ugly stage where you just want to rip it up and start over.  I was delighted to hear that because I thought I was the only person who had that problem!  She also said that you just have to keep working at it and get past it.  It’s part of the process.

Along the same line, I recently read an article in Artist’s Magazine about starting a drawing practice.  The article, by Danny Gregory, had a box in the corner titled:  NOTE TO SELF which included these points:

  1. Never compare yourself to other artists… Let their progress inspire, but not intimidate, you…
  2. You’re making more progress than you think you are.  You may not see it, but it’s happening…
  3. Everyone struggles at the beginning… the struggle is normal, inevitable… and a positive sign that you are working through things.

I have several clients who feel like when they take a class to learn something new they have to do things well from the very beginning.  Maybe that comes from competition in school or the need to get good grades to meet family or cultural expectations, but it is not an effective method of learning something new as an adult.  What that idea is really good at is keeping you from even trying to learn something new or improve how you do things.  It distracts you from engaging, and that is a shame.  It’s a Perfection Trap, and none of us want to end up in a trap.

The real question is:  How would your life be different if you allowed yourself to be messy, awkward, and nowhere near perfect?  And even more radical, what if you could think of doing that as the ‘perfect’ way to be?  Give it a try!

Ka-ching

Shell Tain, the Untangler

Want some help getting out of the Perfection Trap?  Give me a call at 503-258-1630 or leave a comment.

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