I was being interviewed for a podcast the other day, telling a story I’ve told countless times, about how I quit making art at age thirteen.
Why did I quit? Because other kids were better at drawing than I was. Or so went my thinking.
They were the real artists, not me. So I quit.
What’s left unspoken in there is that I clearly felt like I had no business making art, no right to make art, if I couldn’t do it up to some impossibly high standard I set for myself.
Hello, perfectionist paralysis.
If I couldn’t measure up to the people I admired most (hello, Comparison Trap!), then the unspoken rule in my own head said I didn’t get to do it at all!
So I didn’t. For fifteen years.
Take a wild guess how locking up my creative expression like that might have affected my emotional state. Do you think I was a joyful person, living a full-color life?
That would be a no.
Perfectionism is an excruciating trap. It’s impossible to be happy, because it’s impossible to be perfect!
Now let’s cut to present time.
The reality is, on one level not much has changed: other kids are still much better at drawing than I am.
In fact, thanks to the internet, I am so much more aware of so many more artists who are so much more skilled than I am at every single thing I love to do!
If I were still living in a perfectionist mindset, where the goal is to impress people in order to prove my own enoughness, I’d still be mired in paralysis, unable to create at thing.
(Sheesh, I wouldn’t even be able to share this podcast/blog post — I’ve have deleted it after the first six words!)
Namely, instead of suffering on an endless loop of perfectionism, I now practice intentional imperfectionism.
Intentional imperfectionism simply means acknowledging that I’m human, forgiving myself for that fact, and treating myself kindly, gently, and lovingly.
Intentional imperfectionism, applied to my creative life, means letting myself draw whatever my inner four-year-old feels like drawing, even if my gremlins scream that it’s terrible and embarrassing, and that everything is going to laugh at me.
Intentional imperfectionism means writing the really lame blog post or newsletter, knowing I have to crank out a “crappy first draft” before I can get to a better one, because guess what, we need the crap to fertilize the good stuff.
And intentional imperfectionism means hitting publish when that blog post or newsletter is not as good as I want it to be, because the goal needs to be to make a difference, not to win awards for my brilliant prose. And in order to make a difference, I have to get it out there, not tinker with it forever (which god knows I could do).
Ultimately, intentional imperfectionism means allowing my ego to soften enough to realize that my worth as a human being is not tied to whether I can impress you with my awards and skills and talents, and where I rank compared to my peers, but simply have I touched you, and letting that be enough.
Intentional imperfectionism is hard, I will not lie to you.
It is a practice, something I work on every day. But it is, without a doubt, the single practice that has created greater happiness in my life than anything else..
Which made me think, while I was being interviewed for that podcast, about when I was thirteen, and I noticed all those kids who were better at art than I was. My reaction at the time was, “They’re the real artists, therefore I’m not, and I should quit.”
But that didn’t have to be my reaction.
I mean, there are still tons of people who are way more skilled than I am, and it’s not my reaction now, so it didn’t have to be my reaction then.
Obviously, I’ve had decades to come up with an alternate reaction, but what if we could train our reactions, and our kids’ reactions, to simply be, “Isn’t that interesting?” when they see someone who’s phenomenally skilled and talented, and to get on with creating?
Because what someone else creates or is capable of creating has nothing to do with you and what you are capable of creating. And you’re not doing anybody any good by keeping your creations locked up inside of you.
Who cares if your work is any good? Who cares if it’ll impress anyone? Creating it will make you happier, and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Plus a funny thing happens when you create for YOU. The stuff that emerges from the creative sandbox — that mindspace where you’re creating when you’re not trying to impress or be perfect — is authentically yours, and because it’s authentically yours, it tends to be authentically interesting.
It’s ironic, but the stuff you create when you’re not trying to impress anyone, when you do share it, may start to touch people in ways that surprise you.
It’s just how it works.
So jump in the creative sandbox, and go get creating.
Want some help? Come to my free creativity workshop tomorrow!
This week’s Something Cool is Magnetips, magnetic fineliner pens that contain powerful neodymium magnets in each end, allowing them to attract one another, or stick to any steel surface.
So you can actually form the pens into their own pen holder cup…
Or build other things out of them…
And of course draw or write with them.
They’re remarkably addictive and fun. They’re water-based ink, 0.4 fine tip, they come in a set of 20 colors, either color or black finish, for about £40.
Oh, and they’re refillable — you can buy refill cartridges for them, the full range of colors. And they also sell chrome balls, to allow you to make cool constructions with them.
I first found out about them through a Kickstarter campaign, and had to order a set. And now they’re available to the general public.
Want a creative kick start?
Check out my book!
What would change for you if you could totally revel in the joy of creating? You CAN, with The Creative Sandbox Way!
- Melissa’s 10 fool-proof guideposts that have helped thousands get joyfully creating.
- 5 reasons why creative play is good for you, AND for the world (it’s neuroscience, baby!)
- Why “I’m not creative” is always a lie, and how to bust it.
- How to turn creative blocks into friends.
AND you’ll get creating right in the book itself.
“It’s one part field guide, one part creative practice—and I loved it. The Creative Sandbox Way is an adventure packaged as a book.”
NYT best-selling author of The Happiness of Pursuit and The $100 Startup
Hear ye, hear ye! This is to serve as official notice that all links to anything for sale, be it books or courses, are likely to be affiliate links. What this means is that if you click through said links and make a purchase, although it won’t affect the price that you pay, a few coins will jangle into my coffers, enabling me to buy a packet of hard gluten-free biscuits to feed myself and my husband for another day, or perhaps a pen with which to create some artwork. Or perhaps they will contribute toward paying a fraction of my web hosting bill, so that this blog and podcast can continue to exist. Thank you kindly for your attention.
Thanks for Listening!
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Now go get creating!
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