It’s no secret that possibly the biggest thing that holds so many of us back from making or creating at all is a desire for perfectionism.
We all want our work to be high-quality and fully-formed right out the gate, right? It’s only natural.
Thankfully, though, over the past few years, I’ve seen a shift in conversation encouraging creatives to overcome this barrier of perfectionism. This conversation has given birth to ubiquitous mantras like: “Done is better than perfect,” “Aim for progress, not perfection” and “Start before you’re ready” -- all of which is advice I can certainly get behind.
Personally speaking, perfectionism is actually something deeply rooted in my consciousness, being the over-achieving, academic kid that I was growing up. For the past six years I’ve worked to overcome this mental barrier nearly every day, trying to create and share my work despite the voice in my head that naturally likes to point out every flaw or short-coming or opportunity for improvement.
Today I want to share with you one specific mental shift that helped me start to make that journey from perfectionism-induced paralysis to prolific production (holy P's!), and it may just be one take that you hadn't yet thought of.
It starts with a story.
My first job out of college was at an advertising agency in North Carolina. The office was in an old renovated tobacco factory, with industrial-chic brick walls and polished concrete floors. There was ping pong and shuffleboard, dry erase marker frenzied across glass walls, and a coffee bar at the center of the office to work and hang out with fellow co-workers. It was the epitome of what I imagined was a “cool place to work,” and I couldn’t believe I’d snagged such a coveted spot.
But there was a problem — I was so eager to get my foot in the door of the advertising industry and this “cool firm” that I ignored the fact that the only position they had available when I graduated was in the media department.
In short, this meant I spent my days formatting spreadsheets, running banner ad campaigns, and fielding calls from media reps at niche financial magazines. (You see where I’m going with this, right?)
With every passing day, I could feel the walls closing in on the creative essence that I now know to be at my core.
I’d gaze longingly at the creative department that sat in the pod of desks nearby. I’d see them revising logo concepts and brainstorming wild campaigns and editing TV spots. I wanted so desperately to be there with them. Knowing inside the kind of creativity I was capable of and realizing that nobody else knew the potential inside of me inflicted on my heart a slow, desperate kind of suffering that’s hard to describe.
I would daydream about someone from the department marching over to my desk and asking little 22-year-old me: “Hey Caroline, I know you’re super creative and we could use a little extra brain power over here — can you come help us?!” It took me months to actually snap out of my delusion and realize: that is NEVER going to happen.
Why? Because I hadn’t given them any reason to.
No one will know what you’re capable of unless you SHOW them.
That’s the simple truth.
In an interview I watched recently, Glennon Doyle Melton said this when talking about the feeling of envy:
“There’s nothing more painful than seeing someone else do something that you feel like you were meant to do.”
We’ve all had that feeling, right? You come across something another person had made and it HURTS. You don't want it to feel that way but you can't stop it; the envy creeps in. When that hot feeling of envy rises up in us, it’s usually because we’re actually mad at ourselves for not acting on the potential that we know is within us. We don’t want to feel the disappointment in ourselves, so we pass it off onto another person in the form of envy or jealousy.
Back in 2011, I was itching to start my own blog. I had SO much I wanted to say and share and create, but I couldn’t settle on a name and I had no idea how to customize my blogger template and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to write about… so I just waited.
I waited for A YEAR. I waited until I finally paid attention to that hot envy I felt when I stumbled upon every favorite blog I saw, and I decided that it was time I stopped whispering to myself “I can do that” and I started proving it by putting in the work.
Again: No one will know what you’re capable of unless you SHOW them.
Don’t just expect people to sense that you’re a writer; start a blog or self-publish a book so you can show them.
Don’t just expect people to guess that you’re an artist; post those paintings on Instagram and show them.
Don’t just expect people to assume you’re musically gifted; publish those tracks to SoundCloud and show them.
Right now you might see sharing your work as scary, especially if you feel it’s not perfect. (Reminder: no one’s is.) You don’t yet have that perfectly cohesive Instagram feed or every page of your blog beautifully designed or each lyric of your song in its poignant beauty.
Look at sharing your creativity less as evidence of your magnum opus and more as the first line on your resume showing others what your potential is.
With every new piece of art that you make and share, it’s like one more little beacon of proof showing the world (and, more importantly, yourself) what you’re capable of.
I guarantee you, if you simply BEGIN and you share consistently for just one month, you’ll start to experience the thrill of taking what is inside you that’s begging to be expressed, and letting it see the light. That is the soul’s ultimate feeling of freedom, and it’s better than any drug. (Full disclosure: I don’t like drugs, so that's an easy comparison for me.)
The truth is:
Imperfect freedom tastes so much better than perfect confinement.
Imperfect reality feels so much better than perfect fantasy. (Because it's real.)
Imperfect progress is so much more satisfying than perfect stagnation.
Your challenge this week is to identify what potential is inside you that you’ve yet to share.
What are you capable of that you can start SHOWING today. Then, make that plan and simply begin.
The tools that are available to us as creators have never been more accessible or more plentiful. Get out there and use them.