Killing my internal perfectionist
This blog is dying. Maybe it’s dead. It’s hard to tell with blogs.
But I know why. And it’s the same reason ALL my endeavors die. It happens the moment I start playing by someone else’s rules.
The guidelines for successful blogging are quite simple. Know your audience. Create a standard so they know what to expect. Be informative. Blog on a schedule. Use images.
It’s practical advice, but the moment I started caring about it, I stopped caring about my own intentions. Sure, I wanted a successful blog because it sounded shiny and nice. But in reality, I only wanted it as proof that I could succeed at blogging. And what I’ve figured out is that I don’t need proof, and once I do succeed (by attaining my personal goals), I don’t need to prove that to anyone, either.
Doesn’t seem like much of a revelation, I know. But it applies to so much more in my life than blogging. It’s really a game changer, because it makes me analyze what I really want out of the projects I pursue. Surprisingly, it’s often not at all what I thought it would be.
I’ve always kept a journal. Since I was a kid. Since I could write. Probably before then, depending on your definition of “writing.” When I was a teenager, I started hosting my thoughts publicly on sites like Deadjournal and Livejournal and eventually, WordPress. I’m not sure what made me move from private to public journaling. Perhaps it was simply the desire to connect. Writing is a solitary endeavor as it is. Journaling is just lonely.
But you shouldn’t use a blog as a journal, they say. Who really cares about what you did that day? I agree, but the details of my day were never the subject of my writing. Writing has always been my way to see through the thoughts that are abstract and elusive, but that sometimes evolve into relevant material. Thoughts that always had little to do with me as an individual, and much more to do with the world that I saw around me.
I know I’d have more subscribers and followers if I offered something concrete. If I blogged twice a week about writing advice or book reviews. If I wrote about being an editor, or a freelancer, or a mother, or a wife, or a fitness and health enthusiast… or anything specific. If my blog had a theme and people found that theme useful. If…
But that’s really quite boring to me. I am the sum of much more than any one thing, and my interests are often transient, albeit passionate. So what do I really want from blogging? I want to write informal material that reflects how I see the world, and I want that unpredictable content to interest curious people. If you don’t stay- if you don’t subscribe- that’s quite all right. I don’t measure my success here by numbers. I’m the person I don’t want to disappoint.
Not that I don’t value my readers. Obviously, I do, or I’d be writing all this in Microsoft Word.
Last night I thought a lot about my internal perfectionist. I started wondering why, as someone who once called herself an artist, I seemed utterly blocked, quelled, tamed. Since I became a mother, I always blamed my lack of time. Life moves faster when you’re a parent. “Free time” and “alone time” often become nothing more than myths. When would I paint? Sculpt? Play my guitar? When would I photograph? When would I write? When would I create anything? Ah, well, that would have to wait.
But time is not the biggest obstacle in my pursuit of unblocking. It’s my inner critic, my perfectionist, my obsessive and compulsive inclinations and perspectives of measured success, all products of a lifetime of personal battles with the social norm.
One example lies with creating pottery. I’ve always loved this, but I never had the patience to get anything symmetrical or perfectly smooth and rounded. I always saw this as a flaw, and I gave up. It was too tedious. But then I realized, if I don’t even like making something with perfect lines and dimensions… why would I like the finished product? My favorite vase of all time is one my husband purchased for me from a man with a kiln on the curb in the cultural district. It’s imperfect and beautiful. That’s what I’d want to create.
Art is revolutionary. I never understood how originality and creativity could be measured and graded. By following instruction, I lost my inspiration. It’s happened every freaking time.
I’m not belittling academia. I know conventional learning environments work for most people. Just not for me. Here, I’ve accepted my role as a minority.
It’s strange to think that mere weeks ago, I was considering taking a professional photography course. If I pursued photography that way, I know exactly what would happen: I would feel accomplished for completing the course and confident in my expanding skill, but I wouldn’t care about photography in the same way. Or at all. I’m better off self teaching.
To clarify, just one last time, this isn’t about ego. It’s not that I feel like I already know everything there is to know, or that I can teach myself better than someone else can. It’s the opposite, actually. I know so little, and I know self teaching is the harder of the two roads to travel. But that’s what will work for me. At least I know myself, and that’s a start.
This mindset opens doors. Where I thought I’d have to seek approval and certification, I can now explore on my own. Where I thought I’d have to meet someone else’s standard, I can work on creating my best art. It’s liberating, and I’m sharing it with you not for some delusional rebellious proclamation, but because I hope a few of you might relate and benefit from my introspection.
On a basic level, most of us are taught that the world belongs to those who came before us. They’re our teachers, our law-makers, our employers. But how can we know ourselves if we follow in their footsteps? How can we be artists if we don’t break out of the cycle? The world belongs to us. And we belong to the world. We owe it something.
I believe teachers should be guides, and I’ve met few, if any, that play this role. I’ve always been taught to think a specific way, not for myself. I’ve never been gently led; I’ve always been lectured. This goes back to my opinions on today’s education model in the United States. My personal experience and preferences explain, in part, why I’m seeking alternative methods of schooling for my children. Sit in a desk all day for most of the year? Copy what’s written on a chalkboard? An endless barrage of quizzes and tests? Education in my culture is restrictive, encouraging conformity and demanding results in the form of letter grades. It’s no place for an artist, especially now that many public schools are cutting back on elective programs like music and visual art classes.
Do I want my children to be artists? Well, sure, I guess. I want them to be themselves. I want them to feel free to express themselves and learn at their own pace through natural curiosity. And in thinking this way as a parent, I realize what I want for myself as well.
How do you kill an internal perfectionist? It’s surprisingly simple, for murder. Simple, however, is not synonymous with easy. You must stop judging your work against the masses. Stop comparing your creations to what’s been done before- what society accepts as “art.” You recognize this:
And you move forward.