In our first guest post, my good friend Zane Spencer reflects on the very real havoc that perfectionism and doubt can wreak on our creative abilities. Not only is his message raw, real, and loaded with blinding clarity, but I found myself basking in the beauty of the words on the page as I read. It takes true talent to write so honestly and openly about the demoralization of perfectionism and leave the reader revving into determination overdrive. This is worth reading to the end.
Of the impediments that afflict my mind while attempting to create anything, the most potent is that my work won’t be perfect. What songs, what stories, what crafts, what ideas even, have died before they were given the faintest ability to glimpse their first rays of light? When the potential for creativity is, theoretically, infinite, when the raw stuff of creation locked inside the human brain is stifled by the fear of its own maker, what is left over? How often do you find yourself sacrificing good upon the altar of perfection?
If you were to pick a subject or activity, any will do, think of someone within that realm that represents the pinnacle of it in your own mind. This could be an elite athlete, a favorite band or musician, the best comic book creator, a world class programmer, or the most prolific graphic designer you’ve ever come across. Does this person’s achievements and accolades inhibit your own ability to seek success for yourself? If so, why and how?
Are you saying to yourself, “I can’t jump as high as Michael Jordan, therefore I’ll never be able to dunk a ball,” or “I’m not as brilliant as Stanley Kubrik, therefore I’ll never be able to direct a film,” or “I can’t write music as beautiful as Puccini, therefore I’ll never be able to compose,” or “I can’t write with the wit and complexity of James Joyce, therefore I’ll never publish a novel.” All of these names and genres are interchangeable with anyone out there that you can conceive of as being at the top of their particular field. If these are thoughts that plague you, that prevent you from even beginning to create, then you certainly worship that very same altar.
I’ve been asked by my dear friend to be a part of a collaborative community. One built around writing and creativity, specifically one designed to empower others to reach beyond where they think their own grasp ends. It is hard for me to imagine that anyone alive would truly be interested with the ideas that I have brought to life though. Doubt and insecurity rattle my sense of self worth and it is far too easy to scatter the ashes of what might be into the winds of what never was. I cling to my own creations like an overzealous parent, hellbent on shielding this thing that I have made from the world with all of its harshness and cruelty, never releasing it from my grasp. Never allowing it to change and become something of its own. It is here that I smother the life of it, drain it of all purpose, and toss its leftover husk into the trash bin of my memories. Destined to be forgotten…
As I type this miniature essay it becomes all too easy to agonize over every single word. Scrutinize the structure and placement of each phrase, each punctuation. Is that idea formulated properly, should I expand here, should I cut there? Will anyone even care? Why should I even bother? If it isn’t perfect, will anyone ever love this work? By extension, will anyone ever love me….? Misery loves company. Misery is a companion I have chosen to shackle myself too. Misery is the thing that feeds upon itself, engorged by the lack of faith I have in myself. By my lack of faith in those around me.
There is a cathedral in my mind. It is a dedication to all of the achievements that I’ve dreamt of over the course of my life. A truly monumental palace built upon my own failures to act, the impotence of my conviction. Inside you’ll find a shrine of such magnificence and horror. It reeks of cowardice and is littered with the carcasses of all the ideas that have been murdered before I even attempted to share them with the world. Here you will find the chains that fasten me to inaction. Each link forged by my own hands, one by one. Growing long. Growing strong.
I worship, I sacrifice, at the altar of perfection.
Perhaps it is time to burn it to the fucking ground.
Zane Spencer has a peculiar obsession with healthcare and public health policy but spends his days rolling his face across a keyboard to make computers work. He also loves Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, and will switch between Trivium, Bach, and Tomazacre all in the same listening session.
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