Perfection Paralysis

One of my favorite things to do is encourage people. Especially those with long harbored creative dreams. Probably because they are usually the first ones to sell themselves short.

My mother was a beautiful poet. I still have one of her journals filled with some of the most touching verses I’ve ever read.

But she never shared her gift with the world. In fact, she once told me a long time ago that she had started a novel. But after 165 pages of hand written text, she stopped writing.

And tore it all up.

I can’t remember her exact words when I asked her why she did it. But the gist of what she said that still weighs on my heart was: “It wasn’t good enough.”

I still wish I had known she was planning to destroy something so precious. I would have begged her to let me read it first. Told her to stop believing the lie of her own inadequacy.  To let us have the honor of hearing her story.

But would she have listened? Maybe. Maybe not.

I know I didn’t for a long, long, time.

What kept me stuck all those years? Why did I steadfastly refuse to move forward, in spite of friends, family and even strangers telling me that I had something to offer?

Then I realized what had been going on with me. And the truth wasn’t pretty.

It wasn’t that I knew I couldn’t succeed.

It was because – deep down – I knew that I could.

And if I did…then what?

In my fear filled mind, I would be standing in the much dreamed of spotlight. People reading my words. Watching my films. Maybe even actually caring about what I was going to produce next.

And suddenly, I would have nothing to say.

All the brilliant ideas I had inside me would dry up and blow away. And I would be left standing there like a mute idiot. The writer who couldn’t write.

But to be brutally frank, there was more to it than that.

I was afraid of the responsibility of showing up. Being accountable.

Having to write through the dread of creating a pile of crap not worthy of someone’s 10 minute coffee break.

Having to write if I didn’t feel like it.

Having to jettison the excuse of not posting or publishing because something wasn’t genius enough.

But then I slapped myself (figuratively) upside the head and asked this question:

Does the world (or more accurately, the tiny fraction of the population that even knows I exist) really care if my work is perfect?

Of course not.

So, how smart is it to let creative inertia and self-styled doomsday visions rob me of who I am? Of what I believe I’m here to do?

It’s flat out stupid. Period.

But enough about me.

If you’ve read this far, chances are good that some of this resonates with you. Whether or not you’re a writer…it doesn’t matter.

If feeling less-than-perfect has you frozen in your tracks, you’re not alone.

You’re not a failure.

But most importantly…

You’re not powerless to kick perfection’s precious ass and show it the door.

I’m not normally a fan of conjuring up worst-case scenarios. But in this instance, it serves a valuable purpose.

So here goes…

Say you write (or cook, or paint, or…) something and it’s flat-out freaking hideous. You can’t believe the level of incompetence you’ve displayed.

No one applauds (except your mother).

A few – or many – people even tell you it sucks. And they’re oh-so-kind enough to do it both in person and online.

Are you going to die?

I didn’t think so.

So, get back to that thing you love to do.

Allow yourself to do it imperfectly.

Ignore the haters (especially the one that lives inside your own head).

And don’t tear up your dreams.  Ever.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Jennifer Blanchard April 21, 2016 at 8:42 pm

    It’s sad that your mom did that. I try to save all of my writing, even stuff I don’t think I’ll ever use again. But of course it’s a lot easier these days to save stuff digitally… or to pull something back out of the trash can!

    • Reply Mary DeRosa Hughes April 22, 2016 at 8:33 am

      Yeah, it really saddens me that she got rid of those pages. I’d give anything to have them now, especially since she’s no longer with me. The digital age has its frustrations, but I am definitely grateful for the ability to save (or recover) just about anything! 🙂

  • Reply Elaine F French March 3, 2017 at 6:48 am

    I think this all comes back to your most recent post – Jan 2017. Showing up and being prepared to reveal who you are and what you believe. This is especially hard if you know family and friends do not share some of your basic beliefs which may or may not be apparent in your writing.

    • Reply Mary DeRosa Hughes March 9, 2017 at 11:46 am

      So true, Elaine! If revealing your true self was easy, everyone would do it. But working through the fear and showing your true colors offers unimaginable rewards, and it’s part of my life’s mission to encourage people to do just that. As I always say, “We need what you’ve got!” 🙂

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