How to keep creating in the face of overwhelming perfectionism and insecurity
“…don’t chase perfection for perfection’s sake, or for anyone else’s sake at all. If you strive for something, make sure it’s for the right reasons. And if you fail, that will be a better lesson for you than any success you’ll ever have. Because you learn a lot from screwing up. Being perfect . . . not so much.”
—Felicia Day, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel like you’re able to effortlessly move forward on your blog, project or painting…? One moment, the flow feels natural and the creativity seems to be pouring out of you. But when it feels like it’s really gotta count, that’s when you might start floundering.
This has to be amazing. I’ve got one chance. I can’t screw this one up. This means so much to me. This has to be perfect.
Suddenly, the effortlessness is replaced with a version of you that is frantically failing at “getting into your zone.” Anxiety, insecurity and panic is overwhelming and your perfectionism takes over.
Nothing ever feels good enough. I hate it when this happens, don’t you?
But there is a way to use your perfectionism and insecurity to your advantage so long as you manage to give your brain a moment to breathe and acknowledge these thoughts as only thoughts and not your reality. Let me show you what I mean…
The Dreamer Mask: Empower was inspired by the following quote: “The wax melted, and Icarus, the beloved son, lost his wings, tumbled into the sea, and died. The lesson of this myth…don’t ever believe that you have the ability to do what a god might do. The part of the myth you weren’t told: In addition to telling Icarus not to fly too high, Daedalus instructed his son not to fly too low, too close to the sea, because the water would ruin the lift in his wings. Society has altered the myth, encouraging us to forget the part about the sea, and created a culture where we constantly remind one another about the dangers of standing up, standing out, and making a ruckus.” — Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception
If you’ve been sticking with me since the beginning of Lumecluster, you’re probably not surprised when I say that I struggle with my perfectionism and insecurity almost everyday. Second guessing myself is a constant game I play in my head. So, how the hell do I get anything done?!
Well, here’s the thing. I’m great in some areas…but pretty awful in some others. And sometimes my awful moments really take over everything else in my life. Not as much as before, but hey, it still happens.
My perfectionism and insecurity also have a tendency to spike when I’m doing particularly well. I still do a lot of promoting my artwork, but I don’t have to promote as much anymore. People are starting to recognize my work and style and I’m feeling my own increasing pressure to outdo every previous creation of mine. And it appears that I’ve accidentally let this pressure spill into all the other areas of my life.
So, for the past FOUR months, I’ve been floundering with my blog posts. Did you notice? No? Oh…well, now you know. “I HAVE TO WRITE A BLOG POST,” I said in a panic practically everyday. And with my mind struggling to get blog posts out, my art also suffered. As my art suffered, my writing suffered. Therefore, no blog post. Crap.
I take my commitments extremely seriously, so when I wasn’t able to write anything satisfactory, I felt ashamed. With each passing week, more panic and dread set in. The more I panicked, the more frequently my brain locked down. Every time I scrapped a blog post, my heart felt heavier.
Not being able to produce a blog post made me feel like a slacker. And for some reason, my overly critical brain translated this as “Holy crap, why are you so awful at everything?!”
The point is, in my clambering for “perfection” I published ZERO blog posts and did not produce a lot of new art either. To get a sense of my inner dialogue, this is what I generally sound like in my head whenever I’m writing (or creating anything). Maybe you can relate:
It starts with excitement:
“I’m so excited! This is gonna be great! I can do this! I mean, I’ve written blog posts before. I can do this again.”
Excitement turns to an inkling of doubt:
“Wait…okay, well that sounds kind of weird. Maybe if I change this…” *Changes everything*
Doubt blows up and turns into insecurity:
“Oh no, this is starting to look like a mess. What am I doing? Crap, I don’t like how this is looking. This sounds stupid.”
Insecurity and perfectionism eat away at me:
“UUUGH, no one will find this interesting. No one. Only you do. That’s because you’re an idiot. Shit, shit, shit.”
Finally, I start feeling like a terrible failure:
“I feel like I’ve been lying to my readers…I have nothing interesting to say. They’re gonna see this and realize this is stupid and unsubscribe from this garbage. BECAUSE I AM GARBAGE.” *Repeatedly slams face into table*
In a frantic/frustrated state, I look for a “better solution” aka an easy way out aka avoidance:
“Maybe I should stop blogging. Maybe I’m just no good at this. Maybe I should just do art. Never write again. OR maybe I should do a photo blog! What’s a photoblog like? Maybe I should try that. Or not. Why can’t this be easier…”
While writing doesn’t come as easily to me as 3D modeling Dreamer Masks, I actually do enjoy blogging. But during those awful, frantic moments, I forget the joys I get out of blogging. Even worse, I also forget WHY I blog.
“Why do I even bother” is what we like to say, isn’t it?
What’s the point of my blog posts? What should I even be talking about? In my panic, I was desperate to blog about SOMETHING. So I started grabbing at anything, which, of course, gave me nothing but half formed musings and ramblings.
Looking back, I now know that it was pretty silly getting all worked up about a blog post. Even sillier is that I honestly didn’t have anything interesting to say over those four months.
In retrospect, that period was when I was battling through a few learning curves like re-designing my own Lumecluster Shop, figuring out how to create metallic finishes, working on outside projects, and learning how to shoot my own videos. I also had this terrible habit of making sleep and rest optional. Geez, am I seriously beating myself up over not putting up a blog post?
It’s only right now, as I’m writing this blog post, that I’m accepting that it’s fine if I don’t post on a regular schedule because writing every week or every month isn’t a desirable focus of my time.
It doesn’t mean I don’t care about my readers. It means I want to respect your time and only share something when I have meaningful stories to share. It also means I still have a lot to learn when it comes to recognizing and knowing myself enough to know how I want to spend my time and whether or not my actions are feeding or draining my other commitments. (By the way, once upon a time in 2011, I thought Lumecluster would be a blog on marketing or something, haha. I’ll go into more about that below.)
Because if I blogged regularly, I know I wouldn’t be producing more 3D printed artwork. And if I’m not creating more artwork and taking part in new projects, I have less experiences to draw inspiration from for blog posts. In other words, artwork takes priority because it naturally feeds into my writing. Unfortunately, the past few months I was doing the reverse.
The Dreamer Mask: Transformation was inspired by the following quote: “At the beginning, when you first start something, it’s fun…Over the next few days and weeks, the rapid learning experience keeps you going…And then the Dip happens. The Dip is the long slog between starting and mastery. A long slog that’s actually a shortcut, because it gets you where you want to go faster than any other path…The Dip is the long stretch between beginner’s luck and real accomplishment.” –Seth Godin, The Dip
But that’s okay because here is my blog post now and this is something I really want to share with you if you’re also a fellow perfectionist and insecurity-riddled creative. Sure, this blog post is not as amazing as I’d like but it’s the best I have in me at this moment. I’m just putting this out there now before I come up with another excuse to “wait until I can make it better.”
But there was a lot more thinking behind how I got back down to business. Getting into your own head and figuring out what’s wrong can sometimes be a tricky thing when all you want to do is beat yourself up…
So, let me break down how I came to this realization and, more importantly, how you can use your insecurity and perfectionism to work for you so you can get back to creating. Here’s what worked for me.
“Being forced to confront the prospect of failure head-on—to study it, dissect it, tease apart all its components and consequences—really works. After a few years of doing that pretty much daily, you’ve forged the strongest possible armor to defend against fear: hard-won competence…We go from wanting to bolt for the exit to wanting to engage and understand what’s going wrong, then fix it.”
― Chris Hadfield, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
For me, being able to write again in the midst of a frantic, perfectionist, insecure mind started with first acknowledging what I feared and to not let my anxieties paint over everything else in my life. Because a calm mind thinks better than a frazzled mind.
This blog post is published now because I finally stopped to look at what my perfectionism was really trying to tell me:
1.) What’s frustrating you? What emotions are you feeling? Write down your fears and worst case scenarios.
And just let it flow out. Write it down without judgment. I wrote down my list of insecurities, frustrations, and fears, which I’ve already listed above (although they’ve been shortened for this post…).
The biggest one was, “I hate that I can’t blog as easily as I 3D model!!! I’m pissed that it’s also getting in the way of my 3D modelling!”
2.) Sit and think for a moment and write down why you think each of those fears/frustrations might exist. Is it because of a bad past experience? Unclear mission?
Follow up with writing how to ease those fears by actively replacing the irrational with rational baby steps.
And it dawned on me. My frustration about the quality and quantity of blog posts came out of my early aspirations as a newbie blogger back in 2011. Turns out my expectations surrounding my blog haven’t shifted since then. I was trying to put 100% into trying to be a pro blogger and 3D artist at the same time.
As I mentioned earlier, in 2011 I was working hard to make Lumecluster into what I hoped could be an awesome blog focused on marketing (how broad and vague, I know). I spent hours and days honing my writing skills well enough to get at least a few guest posts published on some great sites. But then in 2013 I realized what I really enjoyed was art and finding fun ways to promote it.
So, it occurred to me this morning that the expectations of the old blogging-focused Melissa from 2011 was in conflict with the expectations of the current 3D printed art-focused Melissa.
What’s the rational step? Accept that my blog posts are not the same as my Dreamer Mask art and realize that it’s okay if I don’t publish blog posts all the time. I will only post if I think I have something useful to say (while also sharing my recent 3D printed creations).
When I said this to myself, I felt a sudden wave of relief. Like I was finally giving myself permission to relax.
3.) Look at the entire list of fears and insecurities and acknowledge them. Now let them go. They are your thoughts. They do not completely define you or the quality of your work.
Fine. Fret. But don’t stay there. Acknowledge the existence of your insecurities, take what you will from them, and carry on. The more you do it, the less difficult it becomes.
And if you can learn something more about yourself by dissecting your fears, all the better. Picking apart my fears made me take a hard look at why I am afraid and how I can grow from fear instead of being smothered by it.
But it also made me question where I really wanted to spend my energy and consider whether or not my actions lined up with my current ambitions.
4.) TAKE A BREAK. SERIOUSLY. After break, move on and get back to creating.
This sounds ridiculous but my calendar has a section of time that says “GO HAVE FUN NOW.” And today I started writing this post (as a chat to myself on my phone), without thinking how perfect it needs to be. Without judgment.
For four months, I scrapped blog post after blog post. And then I end up writing practically this entire blog post this morning on my phone. Funny how much you can achieve with a clear, calm and well-rested mind.
And if all else fails, this sounds dark but…the thought that I am going to die someday is still the best way for me to remember how precious my life and dwindling time is. If I don’t get moving now, then when?
Is your life worth letting perfectionism and insecurity stop you from pursuing your dreams? From living out a more fulfilled and creative life?
The past few years, I have had friends in their twenties and thirties suddenly pass away. Freak accident. Brain tumor. Illness.
We see and hear about these kinds of tragedies all the time. And yet, we all like to tell and hope to ourselves that it won’t happen to us. At least, not yet. Until one day it does.
If I’m beating myself up too much, this thought is often enough for me to snap out of it. Life is precious. There are so many things to be grateful for.
See more of the Dreamer Mask: Breakthrough. As a creator, maker, entrepreneur, finding your next big (or small) breakthrough is always on your mind. The “Dreamer Mask: Breakthrough” symbolizes the unpredictable nature of breakthroughs and how they can wash over you at the most unexpected moments in your life (usually when you’re not even actively seeking them out ;).
Having trouble with a blog post? Psh. Fine if this is what I write today. Maybe I’ll switch up the format in the future. Maybe I won’t. It’s all okay. Just because everything may not always feel or turn out amazing doesn’t mean that everything else has to feel like shit. My perfectionism and insecurity will always be hanging around but I am the leading lady of my story. I get to choose how I want to react to them.
So here I am. Here is what I wrote. And here is what I’ve made. And I plan on always making bold new things and taking on bigger challenges.
Because that’s what makes life exciting, don’t you think?
Over to you. What’s something you think you “should” be doing, but still haven’t? What’s frustrating you about it? Try the exercise and let me know 🙂
P.S. I have an amazing new project coming up. Probably the biggest I’ve ever done. I am terrified and excited…and I want it to be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever created at this point in my life. No pressure 😛
P.P.S Even though I won’t be blogging as frequently, I am super active on social media. Always fun conversations happening over there if you’re up for joining me 😀