{perfectly imperfect} two: complicate + cancel

as an artist and a teacher, i have had a personal journey of dealing with perfectionism that i am compelled to share.

the following story is just one of the ways i have discovered perfectionism manifesting in my world.

ten years ago, i joined together with a group of friends to complete julia cameron's book the artist's way. we met once a week to connect, share, and encourage accountability.

during this time, there was one particular activity in the book that revealed an important aspect of my perfectionism...

the exact instructions for the activity:

"send postcards to five friends...send to people you would *love* to hear from."

my mind's chatter about the project:

oh, fun! i love sending mail.

first, i'll make a list of people who i haven't heard from in a long time.

(looking at the list, which feels slightly daunting)

wait, how can i send just a tiny little postcard to people with whom i haven't spoken in so long?

i know, i'll write letters instead!

well, if i'm going to write letters, i need to find some cool stationery.

(shopping for stationery that is appropriate for all five people on list)

ugh. i can't find any that works for everyone.

i know! i'll get cool greeting cards from my favorite store!

but i don't know if i'll have time to go there this week.

(procrastinating, procrastinating, procrastinating)

(rereading the activity the night before the meeting)

wow. it actually just says "five postcards" to "people you would love to hear from."

it does not say "people who you haven't talked to in a long time" or "appropriate stationery" or "greeting cards."

i do believe i just complicated this simple exercise to the point of not being able to complete it.

{via pixdaus}

this activity made me realize that this thought process was not an isolated incident in my life.

in fact, it helped me notice that as a very high-energy, creative person, i love to brainstorm, create, add interesting layers...but to often to the point of paralysis.

i frequently take an idea and complicate it so much that it becomes impossible to execute "perfectly" and therefore gets cancelled.

this behavior is something i observe in my drama students: so many creative kids love to augment, brainstorm, and design (all wonderful things!) but often end up with an idea too big or complicated to be "shipped" in a timely manner.

so how do i deal with this?


i say to my students or myself: all ideas are encouraged, all creativity is supported, all excitement is welcome - but on this day and time, the project must be done. shipped. finished.

this is such an easy thing for me to say and such a hard thing for me to do! truthfully, it's a struggle nearly every time i do it. however, i find that it's getting easier over time as i practice shipping my ideas.

my personal mantra is: finished is better than perfect. something imperfect-but-real is so much better for the world than something perfect-which-lives-only-in-my-head.

my friends, do you ever "complicate and cancel" things due to perfectionism? if so, do you have a method for dealing with it?


Amy T Schubert said...

you're adorable ...
I don't really complicate things to the point that they are uncompleteable .... I tend to just talk myself out of things...
I'm getting better at it ... but slowly.

Jo said...

Amazing...I was just over at Fill Your Well blog last night and followed a link to The Artists Way. And now I see your post here! The universe is definitely trying to tell me something!!
And yes, I definitely complicate and cancel...but didn't realize this was a pattern of mine until reading this post! So wild!

I'm so grateful to you ladies for posting about these things! And now, off to bed so I can get up early for my morning pages! ;)


Anonymous said...

I am just like you. the smallest things end up extremely complicated and therefore often in the bin. I started following a similar path like you, better something done to lesser standards (in my opinion) than nothing done at all. but how to you cope with deadlines if you are the only one enforcing them? I catch myself pushing my own resolutions and deadlines still way too often! any advice?

Heidi pumpkin pie said...

this is exactly the story of my life, projects, and our journal :(

This story and the progression of your thoughts in this post really woke me up. It's not that I'm lazy or not interested, it's that I'm TOO interested to the point where ideas explode out like fireworks and then land everywhere and get left there :(

I try to solve this by pretending I'm in school. Deadlines, timeframes, projects...it is still hard, but I feel a lot better after reading your post


Felicity said...

I do this too. I make things so complicated that they end up going nowhere. You did a great job articulating this "problem."

Mary said...

Like you, I tend to complicate. I start thinking about how crazy awesome a project could be or worse, should be and it goes from there...

I sometimes cancel, but often I end up just scaling back. Simplifying.

Christmas time is a disaster for me. I always believe that making gifts will save me money and think that people will appreciate the thoughtfulness. It never saves me money and it always makes for a nutso Christmas Eve!

But, like you, I'm learning and getting better.

Anonymous said...

This was such an interesting article- thanks for sharing! I totally know how you feel though. Sometimes it's hard to find a happy medium between doing your absolute best and not driving yourself crazy. For me, I was going to use the same example as Mary, above, because I totally overwhelm myself making Christmas presents for people, because I want to make sure each person gets unique items, and then after I complete the project I think, "hmmm, that's not enough, I'll make something else to go with it", and it turns me into a crazy person the closer we get to Christmas :)

And the great thing about sticking to deadlines is, if for some reason you aren't 100% excited about what you did, there's always a change to redo it on your on time. :) Awesome post!

keishua said...

do I ever?! I do this especially with writing things. I don't want to put it out there. I have found deadlines force me to work. Deadlines also force me to bypass my censure.

Monica said...

i tend to overcomplicate but i don't think that always stems from perfectionism. usually perfectionism has me think about the 'best' way to come across - so like you i would be considering 'perfect' stationary.

sometimes over-complication comes from a vivid imagination, boundless enthusiasm and far-reaching vision.

i think that's what i hated most about school, deadlines! but unfortunately they're necessary in such places, and later in many jobs.

but i do like the idea of deadlines for practical things -like getting postcards out to people!

sara said...

oh wow. i DO complicate & cancel...but i try to be aware of it and stop, and keep it simple. BUT THEN i get down on myself for not being awesome enough to achieve the grand, complicated version of whatever it was. catch 22?

loving this series...it feel good to share and to know we're all having similar inner demons. thank you!

beka*b said...

If I just say: this is exactly me, I think that says it all :) *sigh*

knitxcore. said...

deadlines really are the key! i have to "wash my hands of things" all the time. perfection does equal paralysis.

A Bird Out of Water said...

'finished is better than perfect'. I LOVE IT! I think I just found my new mantra... :)

Lauren Clare said...

I love that!

"all ideas are encouraged, all creativity is supported, all excitement is welcome - but on this day and time, the project must be done. shipped. finished."

I'll try to abide by this too :)

Lauren xx