Perfectionist post

What’s wrong with this picture?

Trevor, a ceramic artist, sits down at his potter’s wheel.

His shirt is flecked with grey streaks, dried into the fabric of his shirt from hours of practice on his craft.

He gets the clay, wedges it and goes to work. With wet hands, he centers the clay, builds it up, pushes it down and centers it.

But as he pushes down, it squelches to the side.

“Fuck!”

Angrily he scrapes off the clay and tries again.

Again.

“I can’t get this right!” he remarks under his breath.

Pushing himself harder and harder, he tries again and again.

Hands getting wetter, frustration building more and more.

“Finally!” he exclaims, taking his foot off the pedal as he achieves a perfectly centered thing of clay.

So where’s the problem here?

In one word, perfectionism.

But of course I’m not going to leave it at that.

There’s more to it. Perfectionism is just the symptom.

What’s the problem behind it?

This varies a lot.

It could be a few things. Maybe Dad was always critical and he wanted desperately to please him… so he grew up thinking everything had to be perfect or Dad wouldn’t be proud.

Or 50,000 other reasons.

Why does it matter?

Passion Unchained’s mission is to help creative people unchain their passions and build a fulfilling, enjoyable life.

I take time whenever I can to talk to creatives. To pick their brains. To get at what’s deeper, what they need to hear, what they want in life.

And I spoke to someone recently who had lost motivation to do his craft.

Why?

I dug deeper and deeper, looking for the way he spoke about things, the inflections, probing for deeper motivations behind his words.

It turns out he was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect.

And I myself feel this way too. Sometimes, I’ll admit, it stops me from trying.

What’s the solution?

There are temporary solutions and longer term solutions.

The former is easy but doesn’t really fix the problem. Just like an Advil doesn’t fix your headache, it just helps you deal with it for the short term.

The latter is harder but provides longer-term relief.

This article will help you with more short-medium term relief.

Subscribing to my Podcast will bring you more information and help you longer-term.

Plus at some point I plan to take on mentees who are

  • coachable

  • creative

  • looking for guidance towards building a fulfilling and passionate lifestyle

But that’s in the future. Subscribe to my mailing list to get updates on that and more.

Okay back to the article…

What’s missing in the scenario I started the article with?

Compassion.

Before I tell you why compassion is so important, let’s rewrite the scenario with an artist who treats himself with compassion.

Trevor, a ceramic artist, sits down at his potter’s wheel.

His shirt is flecked with grey streaks, dried into the fabric of his shirt from hours of practice on his craft.

He gets the clay, wedges it and goes to work. With wet hands, he centers the clay, builds it up, pushes it down and centers it.

But as he pushes down, it squelches to the side.

“It’s alright. You got this, what did you do here? Let’s try again.”

He thinks of what he did with his technique and tries again.

It happens again.

“Hmm… It’s alright. Messing up is a part of learning. What can I do to improve my technique” he remarks under his breath.

He tries again and again, each time noticing something different he can improve and making subtle changes, coaching himself through it.

His hands are getting wetter and he’s feeling more and more confident the more he sees his improvements and reassures himself.

“Yes!” he exclaims, taking his foot off the pedal as he achieves a perfectly centered thing of clay.

What was different?

The main difference is this guy’s ATTITUDE towards himself.

I literally copied and pasted the made-up story and changed all the self-critical moments to self-supportive moments.

Everything that happened is exactly the same.

“But why is this important, Joe? Plus it’s soooooo cheesy.”

You’re not single, even if you think you are.

You’re in a relationship with yourself.

In your head, you remember what you said to yourself. And if you reprimanded yourself this morning for eating an extra spoonful of cottage cheese when you said you wouldn’t, you remember it in your head.

Forever.

Most of us don’t take into account how we treat ourselves on a day to day basis.

We might try to be supportive of others, but we have a higher standard for ourselves.

Or at least that’s the excuse we tell ourselves to verbally abuse ourselves.

How many times did you tell yourself “Damn! I’m so stupid I should have remembered my wallet before I took a road trip to the Bunny Ranch… Now I can’t get in and get the lovin’ I wanted…”

Or at least the first 4 words of that self-dialogue…

I have.

Most people I know have.

And it’s phrases like these that degrade our self-esteem and trust in ourselves to be able to live a fulfilling life.

The alternative is clear – you don’t need to lie to yourself.

In fact, you can tell yourself the exact same thing – in this case with the artist, you tried, you failed, you need to improve.

But the key is your focus and attitude.

Instead of “I’m stupid, I’m bad, here’s my due punishment I deserve…”

It’s “I’m human. I’m learning. I am on my way to mastery but I’m not there yet. Here’s what I can do now to improve.”

Constructive criticism with compassion.

“But Joe?” You ask… “What about wanting to improve? Won’t I lose my drive if I go easy on myself>”

Sure. Improving is important.

And it may feel like you’re sacrificing it when you build compassion. The drive to improve isn’t as desperate, as pressing.

It’s more balanced.

But let’s be clear. Being honest and compassionate is still being honest.

Nothing bothers me more – and is more detrimental to your success – than the “self-help” advice of “Fake it ‘till you make it. Act like you’re perfect and eventually you will be.”

How the hell will you improve as a craftsman if you keep telling yourself you’re perfect?!?!

The point isn’t to avoid criticism.

It’s to give criticism with a heart.

Honesty, but from a place of wanting to improve, understanding you’re a human being who makes mistakes along the way.

Positive reinforcement. Desire.

So…

Going forward, here’s a specific thing you can do, modified slightly from something my mentor taught me.

When you fuck up in some way – especially in your art but anywhere in life – say to yourself aloud or in your head:

“Even though I didn’t do X, I did Y and I’m on my way to Z. To get there more quickly I can do A right now.”

Let’s apply it:

“Even though I didn’t bring my wallet, I did drive all the way to the Bunny Ranch and I’m on my way towards having an interesting and fulfilling love life. To get there more quickly I can talk to the receptionist and ask her what options I have.”

or…

“Even though I didn’t get a perfect mug made yet today, I did attempt and get some practice in and I’m on my way towards being a master potter. To get there more quickly I can take a short break and then practice 3 more times.”

See how easy this is? It might get clunky the first few days or even weeks. It took me a while to get used to this structure, but man… I felt so much more aligned. Compelled to improve but never bitter about it at all!

Like I was a compassionate coach, helping myself along the way.

And I found I would even do EXTRA to make myself proud! Just like a compassionate boss – but not overly permissive… he still has standards – makes you WANT to do a good job for him!

Unchain your passion and live life to its fullest

~Joe


On that note, I have an announcement

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