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Evil Schemes, Music, Thoughts

Perfectionism Release Therapy

My favorite teacher in high school taught musical theater, and her name was Megan McQueen. I had never met anyone so organized, excited, logical, kind, funny, compassionate, and clearly completely in love with what she was doing. She had a fierce and unwavering respect for other people’s time, no matter if they were fourteen or forty-two. She was a force of nature, and her students often became more like her disciples. Her compliments were given rarely and always had a matter-of-fact tone, as if they weren’t so much compliments as obvious facts others just hadn’t gotten around to saying out loud.

She gave me one compliment in particular that has stayed with me. I was applying for a fairly prestigious cultural exchange scholarship I was determined to get but didn’t feel good enough for. Megan said, a touch of impatience in her voice, “The point isn’t that you will succeed, which you will, but that you will take your experiences and share them for others to see and learn from. You are a fountain of ideas and creation; they’re not just getting you, they’re getting all the people you touch afterwards, too.”

I’ve failed to live up to that expectation.

Somewhere along the way my confidence and curiosity got mixed up with my reputation as always being exceptional and created a huge evil scary monster called Perfectionism. Not in a cute, ‘I always re-read my emails before I send them, I’m such a perfectionist hee hee!’ kind of way, but in a crippling, nothing-I-ever-do-is-good-enough kind of way.

It didn’t have to do with what other people thought or the reactions I got, because they continued to be positive — it was about me knowing I could’ve done it better, seeing all the flaws, all the room for improvement, and being incapable of stopping work on anything until it felt finished, which actually meant nothing left to improve.

This relentless drive to IMPROVE IMPROVE IMPROVE means I’m, well, succeeding in improving myself and my skills to some degree — but it’s also driving me mad. It’s crippling. I have been working so hard, for so long, through so much bitter effort, without anything to show for it. I started writing my book four years ago this month – four years! I have eighteen projects going on at once and only one measly finished short story to show. In over two years I’ve only posted on this blog a handful of times.

Basically what I’d look like if transported to an alternate dimension where your outside perfectly reflected your inside.

It’s time to finish things and let them be. This video is step one in what I hope will be a long, happy path called Putting Things Out Into The World. I’m just starting to learn the ukulele, I’m self-taught, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never recorded anything like music in my life. I look at this and I see all the glaring holes and I know I could make it better — but I’m not going to.

I’m not going to.


4 thoughts on “Perfectionism Release Therapy

  1. David Edwards says:

    Lovely! I’m so glad you put this out there, Shannon. I needed a boost/nudge right now to get some work done myself. Thanks!

  2. Hi Shannon! I followed you here from Twitter (you followed me) because I’m an INTJ too and I was curious. People say we’re quite rare. Then I started to read about your challenges with overcoming your perfectionism and putting things out in the world even if they’re not yet perfect, and you could have been talking about me.

    I haven’t been at my current book for four years yet, but I’m headed for two and this isn’t my first. None of its predecessors have made it out into the world.

    Congratulations on putting up that video of your ukulele playing. Maybe it’s not perfect yet (or maybe it is – I’m not very musical so you shouldn’t take my word on any of this), but it’s wonderful nevertheless. You’ll see when you share things like this the world doesn’t end, and hopefully it will encourage you to share more.

    All the best!

  3. “…my reputation as always being exceptional.”

    Wow. Me? Not so much, but I do understand the drive towards perfectionism. I think this is a quality shared by most creative-types. Look back at the great artists and writers and it’s there.

    But I’m going to take a slightly different twist on this. Perfectionism for acceptance is rubbish. Perfectionism that stops one from creating, or, ironically, improving, is also rubbish. But the ideal to improve one’s mind, one’s art, and one’s character (without that manic overdrive) is a good thing. Sameness is not a virtue.

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