5 ways to let go of perfectionism

inspiration mindset Oct 31, 2022
Cup of coffee spilled signifying loss of perfection.

Brene Brown gives a brilliant definition of perfectionism. 

“I call it the 20-ton shield. It's a way of thinking that says this: If I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, I can avoid or minimize criticism, blame and ridicule.” 

Talk about a truth bomb! 💣

She also observes that we struggle with perfectionism in areas we feel most vulnerable to shame. 

Considering our own experience with perfectionism creeping up in practice and performance - and in the things we care about most - this hits the nail right on the head. The more we care about something, the more we care that people interpret us as “good”, and the louder perfectionism’s voice gets. 

We watch our students struggle with perfectionism. You all ask us how to overcome it.  We’ve got a couple of ideas today, but it’s important to remember the striving for excellence isn’t the same as perfectionism. Perfectionism stops us from putting ourselves out there. It creates the illusion that we aren’t ready. And, it falsely presents an idea that there is an “end point”, a place where everything will just be … “right”. 

Perfectionistic tendencies make us feel stressed and anxious about getting everything exactly right… and it is a vicious cycle of stress —> disappointment because PERFECT IS NOT A REAL THING! 

You know this. 

You’ve heard it a million times. 

Practice makes perfect! 

No, perfect practice makes perfect. 

NO! Practice makes progress. 

Arguably the most unfortunate thing about falling victim to perfectionism? As Silvio Kramer says, “Perfectionism is a refusal to give yourself permission to move forward.” 

When you don’t sign up for the masterclass, press publish on the video, or ask the hard question because you’re worried about it being the “perfect” thing at the “perfect time?” The irony is that you keep yourself from moving forward — and you keep yourself from learning and from getting better. 

We aren’t saying you should put every last thing out into the world or try to perform repertoire you haven’t practiced. But there is MUCH more wiggle room than you think between putting good enough work out there and something you really aren’t ready to show the world. Here’s a visual: 

It’s also really great to remember that the feeling of “it’s ready!” is … potentially a figment of your imagination. It may never come. It’s up to you to know that - and be the voice of reason! After all… “A painting is never finished. It simply stops in interesting places.” (Paul Gardner) 

So, what are some ways YOU can beat perfectionism this month? Here are 5 ideas: 

  1. Know that if you wait for things to be “ready”, you will pass up infinite opportunities to grow and learn. Reassess your definition of “ready enough” so that you can move forward! Sign up to play, apply to the job. 
  2. Understand that no one ever cares as much as you do. Recently a student said to us “I just prefer not to post anything because I don’t know what people will think.” Well, there are a couple of things people could think. 1) She’s awesome. 2) She’s not awesome. 3) They don’t notice at all. The people that think you’re awesome just got something of value and you contributed to the world. The people that said in their heads you’re not awesome don’t matter. And they will always exist. You can’t avoid them no matter how awesome you are. And the vast majority of the rest of the world? They didn’t notice at all because they’re too busy thinking about their own lives. 
  3. Drop the shield. What are you afraid of? Where is the shame rooted? Do you think you won’t be worthy of love and attention unless you play that etude perfectly? You ARE WORTHY no matter how you play that etude. You have to let go of the shield that is falsely telling you that if you’re perfect, you can avoid pain and uncomfortable situations. 
  4. Set more reasonable goals. Instead of setting yourself up for failure by going into a lesson or performance with the expectation that you won’t make a mistake, allow yourself a handful. Because guess what? There will always be a handful. 
  5. Learn how to take criticism. Often perfectionists are destroyed by negative feedback… and as musicians, we’re constantly getting feedback! Now, there are ways to deliver feedback in a productive way. Assuming this is constructive criticism, learn to look at it as AWESOME! It is a chance to LEARN AND GROW! And what’s the alternative here? Not knowing what you can do better? Boring. 
  6. BONUS: Be REALLY careful about using the word "perfect" to yourself, your students, your people. It keeps feeding the idea that it's real. 

Because we know how many of us struggle with perfectionism, we’re focusing on it during the month of November. If you want to dig into this more, come to Seunghee Lee’s workshop on “Letting Go of Perfectionism” on November 13 @ 5pm ET for free. 

As a near pro golfer and international recording artist + clarinetist, Seunghee Lee knows a thing or two about dealing with perfectionism! In this workshop, she's giving us 7 Tips on how to shift your mindset to let go of your perfectionism. There are so many wonderful tools out there to help you become successful independent artists and to use your creativity to make your dreams to reality! But - only YOU can make it happen! 🏆 

Check out all 3 of Seunghee’s November events here

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