When it comes to the dangerous concept of “perfectionism,” I’ve found a lot of the approach to perfectionism is based on comparison. For example, if I am given a piece of clay and told simply to “create,” I may experiment with shapes and textures or be inspired by a personal idea. There are no guidelines, no requirements. When finished, I will feel inspired, maybe exhausted, maybe energized. However, if someone then shows me the same portion of clay transformed into a flawless teacup by another pair of hands, I may feel a surge of discouragement, a surge of determination or frustration to redo my creation and pursue the modeled design instead. When I’m not given something to compare my own art to, I have less pressure to meet a specific expectation and more freedom to create on my own.
I see this again in my music studies, and it is something I am working to reverse. I hope to use examples of more advanced artists as inspiration to practice, strengthen, and explore the art and the field I’m passionate about, rather than a source of discouragement or unhealthy comparison. I hope to do so in a nurturing way that’s mindful of my own individuality.
Instead of setting inhuman expectations on myself, I strive to celebrate my individuality and the growing process while I’m enduring it.
One of my dear friends (and absolutely breathtaking vocalists), K.W., gave me a beautiful reminder of this after my strained vocal cords gave way during a line in a winter performance. I approached him, thinking only of the two mis-pitched and shaky notes I had delivered, rather than the other 28 minutes of flawless art. He hugged me warmly, and did not mention, despite my expectations, the unveiling of my vocal limits. When I brought it up, he shook my hand and said, “Congratulations on being a human being.”
This has always stuck with me.
So, take your shaking hands, your mistakes, your missed shots, dirty dishes, and spilt wine, and let's celebrate them as our stamps of humanity.