I absolutely hate going to restaurants that have an endless amount of food options to choose from because, without fail, I cannot decide until I have read every single one, analyzed, categorized, weeded-out, regrouped, narrowed-down, weighed, and zeroed-in. Of course, inevitably I have no doubt chosen the wrong thing because how could anyone determine what the right option is on a menu as extensive as the Torah. Thanks CheeseCake Factory…I’ll just have the Alfredo.
I have battled perfection paralysis all my life. As an adult, it’s gotten worse. The simplest decisions can seem insurmountable. Second-guessing becomes second nature and the task of finding that one right answer to every question in a sea of inevitably irreversible wrong choices fast becomes a recipe for spiked cortisol levels and multiple panic attacks. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with being cautious. I take pride in the fact that I am a cautious person. Caution is prudent, but perfection is crippling. Sure, not making the wrong choice feels good, but making no choices at all, taking no chances, doing nothing, gives you no results at all. And I, for one, don’t want to be standing in the same place ten years from now, or even next year for that matter.
So this year, with this blog, I am taking some steps to face down this monster because I am tired of being stuck in place. Knowing that I am not the only perfectionist out there, and knowing that when writing, you should write from what you know, I have decided to share some steps that I have uncovered as nuggets of wisdom to combat this beast.
1) Find the flaws in your thinking. I remember when I was a teenager, my mom allowed me to repaint my room. It took me forever to decide which color to go with. I went back and forth for weeks about what to do. I remember feeling like if I just wait long enough, if I just look at all the options, then I will find the exact right color, the one that is meant to be on my walls surrounding me for all the years to come.
There are notably some innate flaws in this line of thinking. There might be a few things less consequential than what color you paint your bedroom walls as a teenager, but I was sure that there was a right answer, and it plagued me. Obviously I was approaching this situation as though I was never going to get the opportunity to paint a room ever again in my lifetime. I had one chance to get it right! This thinking resulted in my bedroom walls being painted no less than 5 different colors, and I don’t mean in a row, I mean all at once (yes, I painted my ceiling too–orange.) God bless my mother. I feel it important to share here that my walls were still painted like this when my husband proposed…he knew what he was getting into.
2) Know there is no such thing as “right.” Perfection tells us that there is one right answer. This is scary because this thinking shows us that the odds of making the right choice are automatically, ghastly stacked against us from the start. But the truth is, in 95% of life’s choices, there is no right answer. Also, if there is no right answer, logic tells us that there is no wrong one either. And guess what? That extra 5% of situations where there are right answers, they don’t have endless options, there’s usually two.
“Okay, so there might not be a “right” answer, but what about a best answer?” If there are a million right ways to do something, there will always be changes, even if they are improvements, that you can do to your project. This is why we perfectionists need to learn to accept good enough to move out of the village of Perfection and into the town of Pretty Good. And let’s face it, as perfectionists, our choices and our work usually actually ends up being Pretty Damn Good.
3) Stop worrying about tomorrow’s consequences of the wrong choice, and start considering what you are missing today. I’ve been trying to write a book about my life, how I grew up and my experiences as an adolescent since I was 16. My fear is that I will not get it right of course. Whatever I write today, there’s a good chance that I will feel differently about it five years from now. The novel, the play, the blog post that I write today would be completely different if a younger or older me wrote it. This is a reality that I will have to accept to move forward. On the other hand, the longer I wait to dive in and write what’s on my mind, the more opportunities I miss to capture the present. I’m pretty sure that I cannot put myself back in my 16-year-old mindset. I can try to think back, I can draw on my experiences through the haze of my memories, but it will never be as fresh, or as raw, or as authentic. That’s why experiences, and the present and producing what you can, doing what you can right now matters so much. Tomorrow you will be a different person, with different experiences, and perhaps different perspectives. Capture what you can now. I don’t think that there is any going back.
4) Now is the best time. You’ve heard it everywhere. Carpe Diem. There’s no time like the present. And I am learning to admit that a published and produced play today is better than dreaming of the perfect play that I could produce tomorrow if I just let it marinate a little more. I can’t call myself a writer if I don’t ever finish any pieces. You can’t be a blogger if you don’t ever post and haven’t got a platform. You can’t be an actor if you never go to the audition to get cast. I am working hard to remind myself that my good ideas produced and in action today are better than my perfect ideas of tomorrow not yet taken shape. Perfectionism can be overcome when you realize that reality is better than possibility. You are what you do and what you produce, not what you think about doing or think about producing.
I’ve been terrified to work on this musical that I’ve been developing for almost 2 years with a very talented musical theatre friend of mine. Setting aside that I am a major nerd for a moment, I’ve gotten almost nothing accomplished on this project as of late, and it’s all my fault. I have gotten so caught up in being afraid that I will mess up the story and fail miserably that I haven’t done anything. What if what’s in my head is better than what comes out on paper and I ruin this wonderful premise? Again, the thought process here is that if I don’t work on it, then I won’t mess up the story. I secretly hope that one day the heavens will open and bestow upon me the perfect plot, characters and content, if I just wait until tomorrow, epiphanies will abound. All of this is driven by the flawed belief that the musical that I will write tomorrow us better than the one that I can write right now. Again, this is “flawed” because the reality is that tomorrow never comes. Literally, by its very definition, tomorrow will never come.
The real step here is that I need to stop being afraid of producing crap. I need to accept what comes out. Will every line of everything I create be gold? NO. But since when is that a criteria for eventually producing great work? John Patrick Shanley’s work won multiple Oscars when he created “Moonstruck” and “Doubt.” However, “Joe Versus the Volcano” was a dismal failure when it came out. So maybe I can avoid writing crap if I never get around to writing anything, but that also automatically guarantees that I’ll never write anything good either. You can always edit, or scrap something and start over; but you can’t improve upon something that doesn’t exist. You either take the path or you don’t. You either turn the knob and see what’s behind door number one or you don’t. Theorizing about grad school doesn’t get you that Ph.D. And the clock is ticking either way. What are you going to have to show for it? Action begets answers, whether or not they are the answers that you were hoping for, at least now you know and you have more information to work with. Theory begets more theory, nothing concrete to work with or build upon. Be smart. Make educated decisions, but make them.
5) Stop worst-casing; Start expecting awesome. I think it’s pretty obvious from the examples that I have shared above that there is an innate tendency for those suffering from perfectionism to worst-case and what-if every situation to its ultimate negative conclusion. Worst-case thinking only feeds the perfection beast, it is the food that giant feeds on. This is a habit that must be broken to triumph over perfectionism. You must work against your ingrained tendencies to jump to the worst conclusions. It is a muscle that must be worked out daily. Do things we fear happen sometimes? Yes. They will. But not all the time; probably very rarely in fact. Feed your self-esteem beast instead. This one is a better pet to keep and deserves your love and attention, and will help you to cope with whatever results come out of taking action.
6) Many things can be righted if you choose wrong. Okay, so there might be some rare things that you cannot undo or redo. But for the most part, life can be fixed. It might not always be easy to do, but usually you can make it happen. Especially in a America, this is the land of 50 second chances (at least that what I keep telling myself).
A good solution today is better than a perfect solution tomorrow. Quick and dirty wins the race. 80% is DONE. Good enough is Good enough. Perfection is the enemy of the done. They’re all true. Pick your favorite and run with it.
Am I saying that you should always go with your first draft? Your first inclination? Your first gut choice? I don’t know…maybe. Maybe edit and go with the second. But if you are a perfectionist, plagued by the paralysis of the perfect choice, then definitely don’t wait and go with the 15th re-write.
This, my first blog post, is by far not what I thought it would be. My blog aesthetics are not what I thought they would be or probably even what I will stick with. I had no intention of making this post my very first. I think that the title is probably all wrong and I am worried about whether or not having a better title and a better first post will have more of an impact and what if I have completely blown it with this first post, turned away readers and missed the boat completely???!!! But this is the post that came out today. It’s the post that is most developed right now. It’s in the right format right now. And I’m not getting any younger. So I pulled the trigger…Let the wild rumpus start!