Creativity and You Don’t Have to be Perfect

Are you paralyzed by the idea of using your creativity? At some point, everyone is…the blank page, the first stroke of the brush, the first cut of the paper, the first taste…afraid. Maybe you’re afraid to start. Could be you’re afraid to finish. Take a deep breath and remember, creativity, and you don’t have to be perfect. It’s about more than creating a perfect product, to paraphrase a Miley Cyrus song, it’s about the ride.

Image of a large sculpture of a face and neck with lots of cracks-because creativity and you don't have to be perfect

Perfectionism Leads to Poor Self-Esteem

“Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: “If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”

Brene Brown

Fear drives a perfectionist by the fear of shame and judgment and blame. Yet, it’s a self-fulling destiny. Perfect is unattainable. So when you cannot reach perfection, you berate yourself before someone else can.

cartoon of a woman yelling. Creativity and you don't have to be perfect

Shaming yourself is easy.

  • See, I knew I couldn’t do it. 
  • I knew it; I don’t deserve this.
  • Look at how bad that looks. Why did I ever think I could do this? I can’t do anything.
  • Self-shaming is contagious. Once we start, we find fault in everything we do. 
  • So and so did it perfectly, I can never measure up. Might as well not try.

Shaming is so easy you can shame others, too. Laughing at or pointing out the other’s mistakes makes you feel better for a moment. Because you’re not the one experiencing the pain.

Protect Yourself from Perfect

A child draws and tells stories and makes with abandon.  We look at their imperfect creation and praise them for the beautiful thing they did. Why do we do that? Are we lying? No, we are praising them for trying. Encouraging them to keep trying.

You need praise, too. You are courageous for trying. Tell yourself, look at what you did! Good job! Look at you go!

Remind yourself that perfect only comes after a lot of work. Yes, on rare occasions, a singer or artist or chef comes along with nearly perfect abilities from the get-go. But you know what? They question themselves, too.

If friends or family devalue your work, remind yourself that you did a courageous thing. You tried. And that you’re courageous enough, you’ll try again.

You can break the perfectionist habit. Psychcentral offers ten ways to break perfectionism, celebrating your mistake is one of them. That’s right. Celebrate. Thank yourself for having the courage to learn from your mistakes. You are wiser now that you were. 

A mistake should be your teacher, not your attacker. A mistake is a lesson, not a loss. It is a temporary, necessary detour, not a dead end.


Tell Your Inner Critic Off

If you’ve got a strong inner critic, tell her off. Who the heck is your inner critic to tell you you can’t do anything? Tell her I’m going to make this first attempt as crudely as I can and you can’t stop me anymore. Yeah, it’s bad, but I learned how to do it better. Inner critic, all you know how to do is say how bad something is—that’s not perfect. You’re not protecting me, you’re hurting me. Go away.

Journal. Take a walk and yell at your inner critic. Record what you want to say to your inner critic. 

Take a picture of your progress. And when your inner critic is making fun of you, pull out your early work and show that critic how brave you are and how far you’ve come.

Being Yourself is Perfect

Image of a road disappearing in the distance with Quote from Julia Cameron "Progress, not perfection,  is what we should be asking of ourselves."

There is no one else exactly like you, not even if you have identical siblings. Your creative process will enrich you. That’s the best reason in the world to try and fail. If you try and succeed, even the tiniest bit, then you enrich yourself and someone else. Maybe lots of others.

Creativity is about more than what you produce. It’s about the process. The process allows you to explore your feelings, your thoughts, your imagination. It allows you to connect with your inner person. The process makes your inner creative sing or dance or soar. It fills you with a sense of wonder and joy and completeness.

It’s the Ride

Striving for excellence is not the same as perfectionism. When you are reaching for excellence, you take pleasure in working toward high standards. If you make a mistake, it’s okay. Excellence is a way of leveling up, perpetually. It’s saying you want to master this level of skill. If you don’t master it, it’s okay. You’ll work some more. Because it’s the striving toward the goal. It’s the process of learning and improving that gives you a sense of satisfaction and pleasure. It’s the ride.

When you’re having a bad day, when the world is in flames and going down, give yourself the gift of imperfect creativity. You Don’t Have to be an Artist. Creativity and you don’t have to be perfect. Connect and the process will take you on a journey. It’s not about the creation, it’s the ride. In the comments below, let me know how you give yourself permission to enjoy the ride. 

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