More on Anxiety
Provision Anxiety

Perfectionistic Anxiety

Quiz question:  How many ways are there
to receive change for one US dollar bill?

1)  47       2) 293        3) 63        4) 176        5) 117          (answer later)

I have been writing about anxiety and its role in blocking creativity the last few days.  Have you made any progress on identifying where anxiety is hindering you?  Part of my anxiety in creating is that I am a perfectionist.  I want what I do to be good. No, I take that back.  I want what I do to be great.  No, that's not quite right either.  I want what I do to be perfect!  Yes, that's it.  I just don't want the right way; I want the perfect way, the best way in the universe, no the galaxy, no in God's creation.  I think you get the point.

I will wait to start something until I have a reasonable assurance that what I do will be perfect, or I will wait to start until I have a deadline to meet ("It wasn't my fault that it isn't perfect; I didn't have enough time), or I won't ever start at all because I am not sure what the perfect creation would be or how to produce it.

Just this week I have put off writing and doing simple things because I was afraid (no, not shaking in my shoes fear, but just fearful enough) what I would do or write would not be the best.  I put something off until tomorrow just in case there was something I wasn't seeing that would prevent me from doing the perfect thing, whether it be an email, a phone call or the foreword to someone's book. 

Often there is not just one road to a certain destination, there are a few.  Now usually one route is the fastest route and that is one I should always take, correct?  But what if there is a traffic jam on that "quickest" route?  Then the next fastest route becomes the best route to take.  But what if there are toll charges on that second fastest route and I don't have any money for the tolls?  Then I can take the third route because it is still faster then the traffic-snarled first option and cheaper than the second option.  But it's autumn and I want to see the pretty leaves changing colors on the way to my destination and that means I will take the fourth route, which is suddenly better than my other three options.

My point is that perfect is relative.  Sometimes you produce what you can with the time you have and that has to be good enough.  At times, you worked with what you knew at the time and, although less than perfect, you give yourself permission to do "good" work under the conditions.

The answer to the question at the top of the post is number two.  There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar bill.  What's the best way?  It depends on what you need and the available change that someone has to give you in return for your dollar.  I may need four quarters for parking, but someone may only have two quarters and five dimes.  Since there's no one else around to give me change, I don't agonize.  I say, "Give me the two you have.  It's good enough for now."

So is anxiety over the best way to do something got you stuck?  Then you have to talk yourself out of your dilemma by saying, "John, this isn't worth the time you are wasting on it.  Get started and adjust along the way.  You've done this before.  you can do it again."  Or "John, you know you are a perfectionist, so stop sweating the best way in the universe and get started on the best way you know of today."

Don't allow perfectionism to rob you and the world of the joys that your creativity can produce.  Face your fears, your inordinate desire for the perfect whatever, and get started today.  You'll be glad you did and your confidence will grow over time. By the way, anyone got change for a dollar?


Scott Alberts

I have been working through your Creativity Memos and I'm seeing great changes in my life recently, since making a concerted daily effort to overcome perfectionism. As a graphic artist especially, I have been holding myself back from even BEGINNING so many projects because I might not have time to do it PERFECTLY. And how embarrassing that would be, an imperfect effort out there for all the world to see. It's a struggle, but there are IMMEDIATE benefits and positive reinforcement as I get things done simply because I went ahead and STARTED them! Similar things have been happening in the areas of writing and music, my other arts passions.

The comments to this entry are closed.