Perfectionism and the Creative Brick Wall

creative brick wall

Perfectionism is a slippery little bugger on the windshield of life. It glides in and out of minds and hearts with ease, single-handedly grabbing ideas and almost-finished projects and smashing them against a creative brick wall. While our inner TSA agent slowly inspects every nook and cranny of our creative seeds under the guise of self-preservation, it also keeps us from putting something out into the world that isn’t “fully-baked”. So whether or not you currently identify yourself as a perfectionist, it’s worth it to ask yourself…

Do I kill my own creative ideas before giving them a chance?

I Spy with my Perfectionist Eye…

Not sure if perfectionism is looming in the background, snacking on all your delicious, creative cookies? Then why not pick one of your ideas and see if it passes the “I Spy” test?

I think of the “I Spy” test as a reality check of your natural perfectionist tendencies. Your reactions range from fairly small to instant “no way”, depending on how honest you are willing to be with yourself.

Here’s how it works:

Take a moment to flick back through your over-extended mental file cabinet and see if there’s an idea that sticks out, but lacks the spark or attention to turn it into a roaring fire. The one condition is that the idea you choose must have the potential to make you really happy, and offer you new freedom in your career or creative work.

So, when you take a few moments to sit with with the idea and all it’s possibilities, what statements resonate with you most?

  • There is no way I can even think about that right now I’m so busy.
  • Sweet, I think this can actually turn into something.
  • Maybe if I had a lot more money I could swing it.
  • I wouldn’t know where to start.
  • How I can get started on this by the end of the month?
  • Someone is already doing something similar, so what’s the point?
  • I can start doing a little work on it once a week and see how it feels.
  • Why did I wait so long to do something with this? I’m getting started next week.
  • Maybe after the kids are grown.
  • I’m not sure where it’s heading, but I’m cool with finding out.

Remember, there is no right answer. What your reactions to these statements reveal are how you really feel about an idea that came from the deepest creative parts of you. If you get a sense the idea is a good one and it lights you up, then you move onto the scary part, taking action — the part where most ideas stay in endless circulation. Here’s why — taking action means the idea becomes visible and subject to feedback.

Wait…it’ Not Time to Go into the Light!

One of the big misconceptions about perfectionism is where it’s focus is directed. Yes, you can be nit picky about the idea itself and feel very real, physical fear when you think of cracking open the blinds to let the light shine on it. However, the real snag with perfectionism is that it comes with the conditions we create around the idea that need to be met in order for it to be considered “successful” or “worth it”.

If you build expectations that are next to impossible to achieve, or create conditions that MUST be met in order for something to feel comfortable or “worth it”, then you have already forced the burden of perfectionism onto your little idea seedling. Now it has no room to grow. Trust me — I’ve done this to my own ideas countless times.

Cracking the Windshield Past Perfectionism to Truth

Truth: It’s hard to see your own stuff. Fear, frustration, past experiences, doubt, lack of support, etc. These can “bug up” the windshield with perfectionist roadblocks. The solution is to do one of three things with your creative idea:

  • Kill it
  • Share it
  • Grow it

You will always have more than one big creative idea, even if you don’t believe it. If one (or a couple of them) are taking up too much mental or energetic space while in limbo, you aren’t making any room for juicer ones to come through. It also means you are spending time lamenting on what could have been instead of taking actionable steps towards something that has your mind and heart invested in it.

If you choose to share your idea with friends and trusted colleagues you get some much needed feedback in a safe way that you know comes from a place and love and support. You also know that anything you perceive as negative comes from the same place of love and support.

And of course the coolest and scariest part — growing your idea. There will not always be a clear path to how this unfolds, and the route could change at any time, but what’s beyond the wall will always be a mystery if you let a perfectionist mind keep you from ever trying.

What are some of the ways you block your creative ideas from seeing the light?

Photo credit: Louish Pixel