The Evil Lure of Perfectionism

On the blog, by Denise Mills

“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear.” Wrote Elizabeth Gilbert in her highly popular book, Big Magic. “I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when it is actually terrified.  Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, I’m not good enough and I will never be good enough.”

Elizabeth proceeds to explain that perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women who tend to hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than men, and are under represented in certain fields.

“There are many reasons why women’s voices and visions are not more widely represented today in creative fields. Some of that exclusion is due to regular old misogyny, but it’s also true that—all too often—women are the ones holding themselves back from participating in the first place. Holding back their ideas, holding back their contributions, holding back their leadership and their talents. Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism.

“Meanwhile, putting forth work that is far from perfect rarely stops men from participating in the global cultural conversation. Just sayin’. And I don’t say this as a criticism of men, by the way. I like that feature in men—their absurd overconfidence, the way they will casually decide, ‘Well, I’m 41 percent qualified for this task, so give me the job!’ Yes, sometimes the results are ridiculous and disastrous, but sometimes, strangely enough, it works—a man who seems not ready for the task, not good enough for the task, somehow grows immediately into his potential through the wild leap of faith itself.”

Perhaps an oversimplified approach to some (but in reality, what more can we do but these little changes within ourselves?) Elizabeth suggests taking a little piece of men’s overconfident approach for ourselves as women.

“I only wish more women would risk these same kinds of wild leaps. But I’ve watched too many women do the opposite. I’ve watched far too many brilliant and gifted female creators say, ‘I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back, just to be on the safe side.’ Now, I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (Ha ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!) But we women must break this habit in ourselves—and we are the only ones who can break it. We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is every beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it. (There are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud.) At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.

“Which is the entire point,” she states in conclusion. “Or should be.”

 

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