Not right in the head: battling perfectionism

“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough — that we should try again.” ~Julia Cameron

I’m prone to perfectionism.

I don’t mean that animating spirit of creation that inspires one to do one’s best … that fuels ambition, say, to make fine prints; I mean that demon that has me burn through a box of expensive paper only to abandon the job as “not good enough,” or halts a project before it is even started because, according to the demon, I’m not up for the challenge.

When I’m painting — I don’t mean on canvas; I mean ordinary house painting — I’m reminded that it’s best to keep looking ahead, rather than second-guessing. You don’t want to concentrate on where the brush has been, but where it’s going, in order to cut a straight line. Thinking where it has been or tarrying on the last flaw will only lead further astray.

Mistakes happen. Even Nature leaves room for imperfection.

Not to say that some ideas don’t end in cul-de-sacs and are better left where they expire. But the perfectionist, like the indecisive painter, has a hard time letting go and moving on. He sees failure as a catastrophic dead end, rather than as a lesson to be applied to the next job.

The worst thing about the perfectionist is that not only do they torture themselves with their pursuit of the unobtainable, but they often submit those around them to the frustrations and unreasonable demands of their harrowing quest, whether simply by proximity to the wailing of disappointment or, worse, that they are also held to impossible ideals.

I don’t mean this confession to be a rationalization for sloppy work. Nor is it an excuse for the use of digital filters that ape the “imperfections” of analog photography, as used in the feature image above. Film photographers worth their salt … or silver, or platinum, went to great pains to reduce such artifacts.

What I do mean is that we should give ourselves a bit of space, a bit of self-compassion as the Buddhists would have it, to be human — particularly when it comes to work that, presumably, we have taken on for the love of it.

Even so, that bannister I’ve been painting, I think needs a second coat.

Do you battle the demon of “Not Good Enough?” If so, how do you deal with it?

Photo Technical: Camera: Fujifilm X-Pro2 | Lens: Fujinon 23mm f1.4 | Post production: JPEG adjustments in Lightroom | filtered in Nik Analog Pro 2 | Sized and saved for web in Photoshop
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