On the blank canvas I saw a majestic, proud Eagle, wings outspread in magnificent glory. Perched on his chosen spot, his view spanned the countryside, searching high and low, king of the skies.
In my mind’s eye, he was perfect.
He inspired awe as I gazed upon him in my daydreams, and the excitement grew as I gathered my brushes and paint. I could see the colors I would choose. Just the right blues, the cool tones and the warm browns, the Payne’s Gray for blending. I mixed and I worked, the large sweeping strokes, the tiny, painstaking touches.
I worked for hours. I came back day after day. I put him aside. I worked on trouble spots that didn’t match the image in my mind.
I brought him to California on vacation, hoping the ocean air would inspire the majesty I needed to flow through my fingers and out of the brush. I finished it sitting in the warm California sun.
I brought him home and sat him on my art desk and…ignored him. Discouraged with how he turned out, I didn’t pick up a paintbrush for months.
He isn’t the Perfect Eagle of my mind. When I look at him, I see only his flaws, all of his imperfections. I can see way the blues and browns don’t flow together properly. The way the wings on one side are much sharper than the other. The list of flaws is long. You don’t need to hear them all.
I abandoned him. Worse then that, I abandoned myself. The disappointment ran deep and I simply lost the momentum to paint. The list of excuses were as long as the Eagle’s sins. I wasn’t in the mood. I ran out of time. The kids needed me…Something else- writing- was giving me more positive feedback so I drifted over there. Besides, it was nicer there.
Beware the Drift
I hadn’t realized I had done it. Sometimes we do these things to ourselves and it isn’t a conscious gesture. We don’t have a temper tantrum, throw the painting down and say, “That’s it, I hate my Eagle, and I’m never painting again!” We just drift away. One little disappointment, one sharply aimed arrow of wounded feelings and there we go…drifting slowly away, like a gentle current in the opposite direction. Then one day we look around and notice how far we have gone.
Sometimes it’s a hobby. One day we are a painter or dancer or runner, and then suddenly without our noticing, it’s been months or years since we picked up a brush, or danced, or ran. Other times, it’s a relationship or job. In the beginning we are happy, communicating, all is well with the world, and then without our even being aware, we just begin to move away from each other. Most of the time, we don’t even remember why.
One day a friend e-mailed me a picture of a cat. The expression on the cat’s face caught my interest and I started drawing his face. Then the idea of turning it into a pen and ink watercolor popped into my mind and I suddenly realized I hadn’t picked up a paint brush in months. I couldn’t think of a single reason why not. I love to paint! I had plenty of time to paint. It was summer! The perfect time to relax with brush in hand! Only then did I think of the Eagle. Only then did I realize I had been a victim of the perfectionism drift.
When Good Enough is Never Enough
I had high expectations of that Eagle. I had a perfect vision of how he was going to look in my mind. When my ability didn’t match up to that vision, I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or just didn’t at that time, cut myself any slack. I decided on some level that I’m just not a very good painter anyway so what’s the point. I’m obviously not very good at painting Eagles. And since my Eagle wasn’t perfect, somehow I decided I didn’t deserve to be called an artist anymore.
All because my Eagle wasn’t perfect.
Permission Granted to be Imperfect!
Well…you all can tell it’s an eagle right? It’s not like I was expecting someone to buy it. I just paint for the fun of it, for relaxation, for a hobby, so why was I acting like I suddenly was UNWORTHY of a hobby if I couldn’t do it PERFECTLY???
Hello, my name is Wendi and I am a recovering perfectionist.
This is an issue I have battled with my entire life. Getting perfect grades in school, being the *perfect* friend, the *perfect* daughter, the *perfect* wife, then the pendulum would swing to the other side of “forget it; If I can’t do it perfectly, I’m not doing it AT ALL. I QUIT.” You would know that if you peeked at my desk. It is either perfectly spotless or a terrible mess. When it is spotless, I won’t let anyone move even a PAPERCLIP. Because once it’s messy again, I just give up, until the next time I clean it. Then the ritual begins all over again.
It doesn’t make me proud to tell you that. In my defense, I will share that I have come a long way up this hill. The journey has been paved with many scars and battle wounds.
I’ve had a long hard climb learning how NOT to quit, how not to have to live the perfect life. It’s been a long lesson to learn that there is no such thing as a perfect life or a perfect anything. I’ll say this, making a million mistakes and failing a lot does help you to get over yourself. It’s one cure for being a perfectionist. Not the easiest way. But it is a cure!
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly ~Robert Kennedy
So when I catch myself still doing things like quitting on my painting for not having a perfect Eagle, or quit running because I’m discouraged for being so slow, or get frustrated because I can’t seem to keep the house as clean as I think it should be, and my schedule isn’t working out quite the way I thought it would, or the vision of Christmas might not have been perfect because I never got around to Christmas cards,…I remember that there is still beauty in an imperfect Eagle.
I have to sit back and take a deep breath.
I’m not perfect and I can’t quit. I can’t let the pendulum swing too far to either side. I have to take each day as it comes and know that it’s good enough. The house isn’t perfect. The kids aren’t perfect. My art isn’t perfect and my life isn’t perfect. But it’s good enough. As long as I keep on going, one step at a time, being realistic and doing my best and never give up, I have a perfectly good chance of being very successful at whatever I do. Here is the secret it has taken me most of my life to learn. I am more than happy to share it with you here.
Persistence is better than Perfection.
It’s that simple…and that hard.
And we keep working at it…one day at a time.