In the past year, I’ve published six blog posts. I have seventeen more sitting in my draft box. Writing is something that brings me joy and also helps me process my own emotions and experiences in a healthy way. I want to share my writing, but perfectionism (among other things) keeps me from hitting publish on most of my everyday musings.
Recovering perfectionist is a label that I’ve used to describe myself for a few years now. For much of my life, I’ve avoided doing anything that I can’t do perfectly. I would rather turn a better assignment in late than submit something on time that was less than my best. In middle school, my language arts teacher tried to teach us the process of editing and revising different drafts of our writing. I stubbornly wrote my final drafts and then went back and inserted the required mistakes and “revisions”. Maybe you can relate?
Perfectionism can lead to a lot of anxiety. We know that perfection is unattainable but we’re convinced that maybe we should just be trying harder, doing more, and putting another hour into that one project.
Fighting the monsters of perfectionism takes a conscious, calculated effort. Creating new patterns of thinking takes time and lots of grace.
Last semester, I decided to fight perfectionism with mediocrity (and pottery).
I’ve wanted to take a pottery class for years, but never had the chance before. In September, I found a local studio here in Grand Rapids that was offering classes. As a birthday present to myself, I signed up.
Learning a completely new skill and art form is difficult. I knew that in the six-week class, there would be no space for chasing perfection. My deliberate choice to do something I was not good at became revolutionary.
I was free. Free to create. Free to make something imperfect and impractical. In those 2.5 hours each Monday night, I focused on learning and creating something without the pressure of perfection or even utility.
The off-balance lidded box that I made now sits in our bathroom and holds Q-tips. The two tiny pots that were my only surviving creations from the pottery wheel now hold rings on my nightstand. And the coil dish with the glaze that turned out brown instead of blue (oops 😛 ) sits on our windowsill doing absolutely nothing useful.
Those imperfect pottery creations are some of my proudest accomplishments. Because I know that I enjoyed the process of creating them. I did my best, which ended up just being mediocre. And that is more than okay.
To my other perfectionists, I know you’re out there and I see you. I see how you want your work to reflect the best of who you are. I see how you long to be noticed for your intelligence or your expertise or your creativity. I see how you hold yourself to the highest standards and constantly strive for excellence.
Today, make a conscious choice to fight perfection with mediocrity. Choose something that you love and “waste” the time to enjoy it. Do not expect or pressure yourself to improve your skills or accomplish something productive. Pick up a paintbrush even if your work will never hang in a gallery. Sign up for an Arabic language class even if you don’t think you’ll ever reach fluency. Decide to run a 5k but without the pressure of weight loss goals or someday reaching the Boston marathon.
Here’s to making more art instead of perfect art. More paintings, more pottery, more words out in the world, more photographs that inspire, more people enjoying the wonderful mediocrity of their lives.
I am doing my best to continue creating, writing, and fighting perfectionism with mediocrity. I hope that you will join me.