Giving Your Right Brain a Regular Workout

Perfectionism Will Probably Send You into an Existential Spiral

I know that we are just insignificant specks of carbon, on an insignificant little mote of dust, orbiting an unimportant glowy sphere that will burn out in a cosmic blink, and the universe is so incredibly big and infinite that it really doesn't matter if I misuse the Oxford comma, or use the wrong shade of teal, or rely too much on semicolons to get my thoughts across.

"Unknown" by Andy Westface

I’m a perfectionist. The mere thought of turning in something that’s less than absolutely flawless makes me nauseous. I have tossed aside posts for not living up to my standards. I’ve ripped up drawings because there was a line out of place and there was (in my eyes) no way to fix it. Paintings have ended up in the garbage for having a bit of color where color shouldn’t be. I’m periodically about to quit playing guitar because there’s no way I’ll be good enough. The amount of things I’ve abandoned for not living up to my standards could fill the periodicals section of the Library of Congress. And yeah, maybe this is becoming a problem.

This summer has been particularly bad for me. Sure, I made a few things that I am very proud of – some posts were nice, a couple paintings weren’t awful, and so on. However, for the most part, I found myself endlessly poking drafts, tossing them aside for being flawed idiot children that could never live up to my expectations, then picking them up again only to repeat the process. It got so bad that just the sight of a blinking cursor on a blank white page made me go into a full-blown panic, and my watercolor pencils summoned nothing except nausea. It wasn’t fun. There’s countless legal pads scattered around my office, pages filled with ideas deemed unworthy, sentences that fit nowhere, schemes abandoned simply because they seemed unfeasible, unachievable, impossible – and they’re all from this summer.

Thing is, I know that for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven (if you’ll forgive me for misquoting the Bible). All those bits and pieces, they’re meant to go somewhere, find a home where they belong, and mean something. I know, logically, that maybe what I’m doing isn’t as bad as it seems to be – but that little voice of logic is easily drowned out by the panicked perfectionist screaming: “IT’S AWFUL KILL IT WITH FIRE BEFORE IT PROCREATES.” Sometimes, I wonder if anyone would even notice if I put out something imperfect, something that isn’t my best, something that isn’t better than whatever I made yesterday. I dare not test it – what if someone notices? That would be just awful.

"All Is Not Lost" by Stephan Parylak

Being in constant pursuit of perfection, or the nearest thing to it, isn’t so bad. When I’m in the moment, words pour out onto the page one after the other and the next thing I know, I’ve forgotten to eat lunch and it’s dinnertime. Things come together in a matter of minutes. Finished drawings pile up neatly, ready to be filed away somewhere where no one will ever see them. Maybe I don’t even feel like a failure. However, I expect myself to always be at this peak, always ready to conjure magic on a moment’s notice. Then comes that inevitable day when nothing is working right, the perfect words don’t come to me right away (or at all), and before I know it, I’ve ended up in another deep funk without having created anything, or in a funk as a result of creating something, but refusing to acknowledge its existence.

I wish I knew how to handle this obsession with perfection. I know that we are just insignificant specks of carbon, on an insignificant little mote of dust, orbiting an unimportant glowy sphere that will burn out in a cosmic blink, and the universe is so incredibly big and infinite that it really doesn’t matter if I misuse the Oxford comma, or use the wrong shade of teal, or rely too much on semicolons to get my thoughts across. Whatever I make matters absolutely not in the greater scheme of things; maybe not even in two or three years. Maybe not even now. I know this. I just don’t know how to put aside that voice that tells me if I’m not gonna do something right then I shouldn’t do it at all, and maybe I should burn it at the altar of perfection.

Do you have similar issues? Do you actively murder your darlings because they’re just not good enough? Do you seek perfection out in whatever you do? And how do you deal with these things? Really. Tell me. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

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