Playing safe is risky business

The impossible goal of being PERFECT keeps showing up in my life. I remember years ago a colleague of mine saying to me something about being a perfectionist and I thought, 'really? I'm so very far from perfect, how can he see me as a perfectionist?' That stayed with me because it made me realize that my goal of appearing perfect was coming across as something different - hard on myself, unforgiving, driven, upset by mistakes. My secret desire to appear perfect was backfiring!

This topic is a thread that reappears in my life as it slowly unwinds. It is on my mind again while I am participating in a 30 day video challenge. 

It's challenging for me to go with the first take, as is recommended, and to know I could spend ten more minutes to get better lighting, to put on a little makeup, to brush my hair, to think through my words, to follow directions as much as possible.

But life is such that those extra ten minutes mean I might not get the video done today - my toddler might wake from his nap. Those ten minutes mean I might not get to respond to emails today. So I sacrifice my best effort in service of a bigger goal - staying with the project in all my flaws and imperfection.

This all relates to politics too. My Perfectionist part wants me to do everything possible every day to help my causes. The stakes feel high. But juggling being perfect in Activism, as well as motherhood, as well as work....well, it's impossible. 

This thread of believing that perfection, or appearing perfect, is actually attainable, has negatively affected my playing and performing. It is a current of fear that has restrained me and boxed me in, musically and creatively. If perfection is the goal, avoiding mistakes are higher priority than making art, than connecting with my collaborators, than being in flow. 

Perfectionism has a good/bad duality, right/wrong. Of course, wrong notes are wrong. But are wrong notes worse than being boring and uninspired? Closed off and locked down?

The fear of truly being seen, in our honesty and authenticity, is scary and vulnerable. Perfectionism is fake protection. No one can be perfect. Very few performances would live up to a standard of perfect. What is perfect anyways? Perfect technique? Perfectly happy audience? Perfect notes? 

Being a classical musician, striving for high standards, is a double edged sword. It can push us to be our best, to continue seeking better and better technique for the service of more ease and excitement in performance. It can be the motivating force to choose tough teachers and coaches and summer programs and conductors.

But, like for me, it can be a box that ends up cutting you off from your humanity and the kernel of inspiration and electricity. The question of whether high standards are helping, or hurting, or both, and in which ways, might prove useful to you.

Even if you know that your striving for perfectionism hurts you, it's a hard path to unwind. It's one thing to know it's hampering you, it's another to stop that pattern. Here's one way you might start:

  • Think of a time when you felt like high standards hemmed you in some way. What did it feel like? Where do you feel it in your body?
  • Is there a voice that goes along with this? A repeated mantra, a refrain of not-good-enough? 
  • Get to know this part of you. What does it want? What is it's intention? Can you find a positive intention in its driving force? Can you
  • Let this perfection part know you hear and see the intention that drives it and drives you.
  • Be patient. The work of transformation is slow. Be kind to yourself and this part that so desperately wants perfection. 

In an effort to live out my efforts for more humanity and less perfection, I'm writing this newsletter in one morning and sending it out the same day. Does all that extra fluffing around with adjectives and commas actually make my writing better? I have no idea. But I'm giving it a try to wing it, to go with my instinct, to go for connection rather than perfection. Maybe it will annoy you to see more mistakes in my writing. Maybe you won't notice. Maybe this isn't any different than how I perceive it on the inside. It's all an experiment anyways, right? 

Thanks for reading, and cheers to you being your true and imperfect self!