As a creative being, you’re familiar with perfectionism. Many times you find yourself driven to create something perfect. However, in reality, it steals away your joy, inspiration, and creativity. This shadow side of your artistic life can be challenging and damaging and can stop you from making your art.
Where does perfectionism come from?
Perfectionism and the need to be perfect and make everything “just so” can catch you unexpectedly. Perhaps you overhear a negative comment. Maybe you feel like a member of your audience, a couch, or a mentor has a certain look in their eye when watching you perform or looking at your work. Sometimes, a disparaging voice just starts playing in your mind, seemingly out of nowhere. Next, you may feel (consciously or unconsciously) like you have to prove yourself, be so perfect that no one could have any objections…
Trauma from childhood or from the more recent past may get a hold of you and, suddenly, you hide in the false comfort of perfectionism.
All you start thinking that you don’t have what it takes, you’ll make a fatal artistic mistake, or no matter how hard you work, you won’t get anywhere…
When you get caught up in a drive to be perfect, you can’t find your emotional creative space. You no longer feel attuned to yourself, your creativity, or your performance. You‘ve shifted into your head and your own worries, disconnected from your heart and afraid of being seen in all your human flaws.
You’ve moved from being connected to your art and your audience and into a lonely place. Rather than being in love with what you’re creating, you’re looking for others’ approval.
Perfectionism Is a Destructive Illusion
Ultimately, perfection simply does not exist. And yet, we often keep striving for it.
Perfectionism can trap you in an addictive loop, leaving you chasing something that you can’t ever get to. The more you chase this elusive perfection, the more lost and empty you feel.
Slowly, it steals your courage, your inspiration, your motivation. For many, it turns into anxiety, depression, and addictions.
The worst part? The act of chasing perfection simply reminds you how imperfect you are.
Perfectionism Diminishes You as an Artist
Nor does perfectionism have anything to do with creating great art.
Perfectionism is about proving yourself, not about your desire to create with a spirit of freedom or perform with a sense of mastery.
Rather than being about the desire to create something beautiful, perfectionism is a longing for real connection.
Here’s what’s true: Real connection doesn’t come to you because you chase it. Real connection happens when you’re in touch with all that you are – your strengths and your shadows.
When all of your qualities – from your brightness to your darkness and all in between – come together, then others can truly see you, feel you, and know the depths of your humanity (who you really are) and your creative vision.
Perfectionism Tries to Hide You From Your Real You
Perfectionism becomes the wall that separates you from something you really need to embrace: your shadow. You actually need to be able to access and be in touch with your insecurities, doubts, and fears in order to create authentic art.
Though it may be difficult or even painful to look at certain aspects of yourself, your shadow isn’t something that you get to see or ignore as you wish. Your shadow is a part of you no matter where you are or what you do.
It comes with you wherever you are, whether you want it or not. Your shadow needs to be allowed to freely move, dance, rest, or just be there within you.
When you are uncomfortable with your own inevitable human flaws, a fear of failing, a pressure to perform, and a constant search for validation from others can take over. This is when you disconnect from who you are, your art, and your audience.
Just as perfectionism tries to shield you from your own (necessary) shadows, perfectionism also stands between you and your art, between you and your audience.
It’s common to use perfectionism as a defense mechanism, but that doesn’t help you become a more accomplished, confident artist. Instead, it connects you to feelings of inadequacy and a false sense of self-protection.
When you operate from a defensive mechanism, you’re back into the trauma place – you don’t overcome or heal the trauma, you’re just back into a re-traumatizing emotional space.
There is a difference between a drive to create and the pursuit of perfection
There’s something that’s more powerful than your desire to be perfect or your need to protect yourself: your connection to your own life energy and your drive to create.
Inspired by your own creative drive and life energy, you can see your imperfections with compassion and work with them. You can tolerate them, be in touch with them, and use yourself as the instrument that brings your art alive – authentically humane art that speaks and connects to other hearts and minds.
The river of your creative energy, flowing freely, turns rough stones into shiny ones. It polishes your imperfections into something beautiful.
On the other hand, chasing perfection keeps creative energy stuck. You become preoccupied (consciously or unconsciously) with covering up your imperfections. In that clouded emotional space it becomes impossible to see or understand what personal qualities you could improve as an artist.
You find your creative beauty in imperfections – as you probably heard this before
When you navigate your creative life and allow yourself to be aware of and embrace your shadow, you find your way to your refined creative self. As your creativity is allowed to flow with your imperfections, you polish yourself as an artist.
In the end, art is about connection. What you feel inside is revealed through your creativity, and the audience is invited to engage with your art. This real connection is what moves you forward and enables you to create beautiful art that’s rooted in your humanity and uniqueness.
Genuine connection isn’t about being perfect. It’s about sharing your humanity.
How can you stay genuinely connected to yourself, your art, and your audience?
Embracing your shadow – your imperfections – will allow you to be who you are and hone and refine your artist skills. Here are three strategies to help you.
1. Get to know yourself in a intimate way
Who are you? What are your hopes and dreams? What do you dread and fear? What’s great about you? What are your weaknesses? How do you shine? What are your conflicts? What is your purpose here?
The more you know about yourself, the more connected you are to the real you. With such self-connection and self-awareness, you can connect authentically and intimately with your creativity and audience so you can create art that touches and impacts others.
2. Take healthy risks
Taking healthy risks not only allows you to discover who you are, but also enables you to grow, develop, and transform. By taking risks you get to know yourself, what you’re capable of, and you give yourself the chance to evolve as an artist and human being.
You may be surprised by what you discover about what touches you, what brings you to tears of joy, or what freezes you in fear. You may be equally surprised to realize what’s not for you. Only when you’re challenged in some way, can you discover and polish your hidden talents. Can you imagine how you’ll develop along the way?
3. Stay connected to your dreams and the reality the journey simultaneously
Let your dreams or goals be your inspiration and motivation, but stay connected with the journey. When you allow your dreams to burn vividly in your mind, they will take you through the shadows or darkness of the journey. At the same time, keep yourself grounded in reality.
Let your dreams wrestle, play, struggle, and dance with the reality of the artistic career. This will take you on a moment-by-moment real connection to your artistic journey to build your skills, your confidence as an artist, and your creative life.
These strategies can take you a long way toward self acceptance and a more sustained creative flow. But, if you’re still struggling, it could be time to work with a psychotherapist. You may need help along this journey of discovering who you are and accepting yourself, imperfections and all.
I’d be happy to set up a free initial consultation to see if I am the right therapist for you. Together, we can explore ways that perfectionism, and other destructive patterns, affect your ability to create and thrive.
Contact me to set up a free 15-20 minute consultation to see if psychotherapy can help you further your career and your personal life.
I am Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Doctor in Clinical Psychology. I help creatives and performers with emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, performance anxiety, creative blocks, relationships, and addictions – to be and live their own best version. You can read more about Therapy for Creatives and Performers here.