Today on the podcast I riff on a question from a listener. What to do when you’re feeling stuck and insecure? When you don’t like all of your work? When you’re a perfectionist?
As someone who has fit solidly in each of those categories, I am supremely qualified to answer! 🙂 Have a listen.
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Help! I’m stuck! I don’t like all my work!
A listener with the iTunes ID calpearl left the following question in an iTunes review:
Melissa, question: I’m a painter who is feeling stuck and insecure (I’m bipolar) — help. I just don’t like all my work. I’m a perfectionist.
Thanks for your question, calpearl! Since I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist, or psychology, I cannot speak to the bipolor piece, except to recommend professional help. (I have bipolar loved ones in my family, and the help of a good psychiatrist has been invaluable.)
What I can speak to, however, is the piece about feeling stuck and insecure, not liking all your work, and being a perfectionist, because, me too!
Here’s the reality: you are never going to like all of your work.
(If you’re reading this and you do like all of your work, hey, more power to you, but that’s not most of us.)
There are a couple of things for me to say about this:
1) Crap is a necessary fertilizer
The more you let yourself make crap (because remember, we need the crap to fertilize the good stuff (click to tweet)), the better your chances of getting to the work that you do like.
You’re going to have to crank out a lot of work that you may not like in order to get to the work that you do like. In order to learn the skills that you need to have; in order to craft at the level that you want to craft, and in order to learn to like your work.
Have you ever turned on a faucet that hasn’t been used in awhile? The water that comes out at first is brown and rusty, unfit for human consumption.
Our creative taps are the same: you’ve got to let them run for a bit before the flow is clear and delicious. It’s only by running the rusty, gunky water first that you will get to the clear, yummy stuff.
2) Feedback helps me see my work with gentler eyes
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but sharing my crappy, imperfect, mediocre work with other people has been huge for helping me to like my work better.
Here’s what happens: when I put my work out into the world — whether in a private Facebook group (a group where I feel really safe), or here on the blog, or elsewhere on social media — lo and behold, people click the “like” button! Some people even leave positive comments!
We’re all so terrified that people will hate on our work (especially if we’re already hating on it ourselves), but the reality is that nasty, negative comments are very, very, very rare.
Most of the time you’ll get friends, acquaintances, and random strangers, clicking the “like” button. And even leaving comments!
Let me tell you, the first time you put something that you feel is mediocre or downright crappy out into the world, and someone clicks the “like” button, or they leave a positive comment, it’s amazing!
It’s not that I’m sharing my work seeking validation — not at all. What I’m talking about is really different.
Sharing my work with an openness to other people’s (positive!) opinions about it allows me to take off my hyper-critical glasses — with lenses that only allow me to see what’s lacking my my work, where it’s not good enough, where it doesn’t meet up with what I was envisioning — and look at my work through someone else’s glasses.
Because remember: other people see your work for what it is. You see your work for what it isn’t. (Click to tweet.)
And when you can look through the lens of seeing your work for what it is, it can help you to like it better. At the very least, it can help you have more compassion for your work, and for yourself, as the imperfect creator of that work.
On being a perfectionist…
Honey, I get it. Me, too. I am a recovering perfectionist.
But I go one step further: I claim the title “Imperfectionist.” (I even created an Imperfectionist Manifesto!)
There are so many people in the world who proudly claim the title, “Perfectionist.” It gives them all kinds of excuses, it shows how awesome they are because of their exquisite attention to detail, and because they won’t let anything go until it’s absolutely perfect.
I don’t see this as something to be proud of. I see it as a very dangerous place to be that is not serving me in any way, shape, or form.
My years of being a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist did not make me happy; they made me miserable.
Now, I will not lie; I still have massively perfectionistic tendencies! Which is why I am so intentional about claiming the title “Imperfectionist,” a human who allows myself to be human.
Being an imperfectionist is a practice. Changing from a perfectionist to an imperfectionist is not something that will happen overnight.
It’s a lot like a meditation practice. When I sit down to meditate every morning, my intention is to focus on my breathing. Very quickly, though, I notice that my mind is romping off into what I want to do today, things I don’t want to forget, things that happened in the past…
The beautiful thing is the noticing. When I notice that I’m thinking again, this is not a problem in the least. Our minds are made to think. Noticing that my focus has strayed is actually the golden moment!
When I notice, it creates space for me to gently let go of my thought train and gently bring myself back, with great compassion and love.
Meditation is not about being perfect at focusing on my breath; it is about mindfulness, about noticing, and coming back to presence, with great compassion and love.
Imperfectionism is the same. It is a practice. It’s about noticing where I am being perfectionist, how this is impacting my life, and intentionally deciding to change that pattern, and coming back to presence, with great compassion and love.
You can totally do this. If I can do it, anyone can!
On getting unstuck…
When you are feeling stuck and insecure, I strongly recommend you visit/revisit my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox, aka my Keys to Creative Flow (I talk all about them in episode 005).
If you sign up on my mailing list, I’ll also send you a printable poster of the rules/keys, and my Imperfectionist Manifesto. Print them out and hang them on your wall, so you can consult them regularly.
I do! I consult my posters almost every day! (Hey, I made them for myself just as much as for anyone else. 🙂 )
And remember, it’s a practice. And you get to practice imperfectionism in this practice of imperfectionism!
That’s right, you will not be perfect at imperfectionism. You will find yourself being a perfectionist, beating yourself up, doing all those things that don’t serve you. (I sure do!)
This is not another excuse to beat yourself up; it’s a great opportunity to practice my Golden Formula:
Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good (click to tweet).
Self-awareness = noticing you’re feeling stuck, noticing when you’re feeling insecure, noticing when you’re trying to focus on your breathing and your thoughts are romping all over the place. Noticing what is working and what’s not working.
Self-compassion = remembering that you’re human and fallible, just like everyone else, and that this is okay. Then respondingto yourself with gentleness and kindness, just as you would with a beloved friend.
If you’ve got a daily practice and you fall off track, my Golden Formula means not beating yourself up, but instead asking yourself, “Hmmm… How does it feel when I skip a day? How does that compare to the way it feels when I’m consistent?”
This is really good data!
Then use this data to gently, lovingly, help yourself back on track.
Truly, if you can practice my Golden Formula, you will be inherently practicing imperfectionism.
It’s okay that you feel stuck and insecure. It’s going to happen. It. Is. Going. To. Happen.
It’s okay that you don’t like all your work. It’s going to happen.
It’s okay that you’re a perfectionist. You get to practice being an imperfectionist.
Give it a try. Be gentle and kind with yourself, and remind yourself that it is a long-term, life-long practice.
I hope this is helpful! Keep me posted.
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
LCN 005: My Top 10 Tips to Get Past Any Creative Block: Creative Sandbox Rules
My (free!) Imperfectionist Manifesto/Keys to Creative Flow poster
Thanks for Listening!
Thanks so much for joining me this week. Have some feedback you’d like to share? Leave a note in the comment section below!
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Now go get creating!
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