Tag Archives: working through fear

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Round-About Resolutions for a Perfectionist

I don’t really make new year’s resolutions (maybe cuz I am worried that using the term “resolution” will jinx me somehow), but if there was one thing I would focus on improving in 2012, it would be to reach out to others more for feedback in my endeavors and to experiment more publicly. (Okay, okay, it’s a resolution.)

I am a huge perfectionist. I get it from my mother and grandmother, who both said, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” (Nevermind that “right” is a totally amorphous undertaking.) Until reading an article from Dr. Jeff Szymanski, the author of The Perfectionist’s Handbook, I never really connected my perfectionism with my likelihood to trudge forward on personal projects without much input from others. But apparently it is endemic of perfectionists to behave this way, and it makes perfect sense. Dr. Szymanksi outlines the tendency for perfectionists to think that showing a product to others in a potentially imperfect state creates the impression — primarily and perhaps even only to the perfectionist — that they aren’t showing their best work and are therefore performing below par, an assumption that makes one tend to hold something close to the chest until the very last moment. Yet he argues that early feedback and involvement from others can provide a stepping stone from which to make a number of previously unconsidered modifications that can allow any endeavor to shine that much more brightly. He argues that in order to be a true perfectionist, one has to go beyond their ingrained perfectionistic habits and put the imperfect product up on the critique board.

He also talks about how procrastination is a main theme for perfectionists. If we feel we can’t do it perfectly, then we may never get a start.

I like mulling on the topic of perfectionism especially at this time of year, as it is often our over-inflated expectations of ourselves that keep us from actually achieving any new years resolutions we may have set for ourselves. Perhaps the answer isn’t in setting lower expectations, but in understanding that striving is most important, and that we are never really going to fully arrive. It’s good to leave room for unexpected twists and surprises. Maybe the outside world will give feedback that will point things in a new direction, or priorities will shift… Or even doing a little bit is better than doing nothing. After all, we never really ever fulfill our potential, as our potential only grows as we grow.

In Jonathan Fields’ book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear & Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance, he talks a lot about leaning into our doubts and opening up our endeavors to the input of others, sometimes in a very public way. It can create accountability, but also it allows us to lean on the genius of others in reaching for our goals. And of course I’m talking Goals here with a capital G… Starting that book that’s been lurking in the back of your mind, lighting a fire under your business, evolving your painting passion into an entrepreneurial endeavor.

You could set some resolutions that are easy to achieve, low-hanging fruit that will make you feel accomplished, something to keep you inspired to do more. I have a friend whose resolution last year was to wear more suits, and he achieved that one with aplomb. Mine this year is to be more compassionate, especially with myself… A little more esoteric, but one that I am certain I will accomplish, and even moreso with the added focus of making it my resolution. The big Resolutions are ones that I am not so sure I will achieve, if I am to be honest, but that I am dedicated to making progress on. Blogging consistently, sharing more with my social networks, experimenting and helping others as much as possible through the sharing of information and ideas. All of these things have been on my radar some way in the past, and every year I gain more progress, improve my habits, build better and better foundations. I’m even more successful when I overcome my tendency to ferret something away until it feels perfect enough… Which it never does. Learning to live with that artist idiosyncrasy is the best thing I have gained as an adult, because I can more easily fulfill my promise of being more compassionate with myself when I remember it.

So perhaps this year’s ultimate goal for me is to give in to the process and reduce my stranglehold on perfection. After all, in a constantly evolving world — especially the landscape of communication, society and business called the internet — one is best served by leaning into the community and innovating real-time than letting ideas of perfectionism cause one to stagnate and lose relevancy. Feedback is something that is inevitable anyway, and the earlier one receives feedback, the earlier one can change course or reconsider… or the earlier one can come to terms with the fact that they are going to do it their way no matter what. Perfectionism is a moving target. Connection and evolution thrive on communication and the willingness to experiment and put things out there.

And a good dose of compassion can help us along the way as the Road of Resolutions makes its twists and turns throughout 2012. Here’s hoping that yours starts off with a wonderful wind in your sails.

When Comparison Kills Creativity

Lately I’ve been comparing myself to my heroes, and I’m realizing how destructive it can be. How do you regain your passion for your work when you are feeling oppressed by feelings of inadequacy?

I have a deep, dark secret. I compare my work to other people’s work, all of the time. What’s worse, I compare myself to people who have a lifetime of solid, focused experience. On good days, I catch myself, remind myself how well I am doing for where I am and how far I have come. On bad days… oh those very bad days… I am no good and will never “make it”… wherever it is I am trying to “make it” to.

I have a theory, that I am not the only one who does this, and that it is one of the major reasons why creative people often never get anywhere with their work. This habit of comparison is so deeply ingrained in us that it can sometimes cut us off at the knees without ever emerging into our primary consciousness as a problem.

It’s been hitting me hard this week. I have really been enjoying creating of late, and I’m very well pleased with the personal progress I’m making. I see huge leaps in every new drawing, every new painting. If I sit with the process and how precious that is, I can feel very good about where I am.

When I think about where I personally want to be… making a graphic novel that people enjoy… well, there goes everything below the knees. I don’t know where to start, and what I have done lines up so little with what I personally enjoy. (Making stuff that is true to you but not exactly what you like is another topic entirely… I think there are many artists and writers out there who don’t necessarily make the sorts of things that they personally have a taste for. But that’s a post for another day.)

For me, I know that comparison is the problem. I am reading the best graphic novels out there, familiarizing myself with new and old works that I hope will help me find my way forward. It’s like I’m trying to paint ballerinas with a kid’s watercolor set and comparing myself to Degas.

But I know the truth. There is plenty of room in the vast wealth of experience for me to exist at whatever place I live in my skill-set. And I know that I am further along than I realize, especially further when I am in a dark mood about where my current abilities live within the spectrum.

Perspective is a very valuable tool to have as creative person. If you went to school for a creative career you may think that critical points of view are the only valid perspective. But true perspective includes much more than the critical hue, and thinking that criticism is the path to perspective alone will make it very difficult to maintain passion for your work. Real perspective takes into account personal experience, joy, business, life dynamics, and a million other sundry concerns. To have perspective is to realize that the world is full of things that we’d consider good and bad, and there is someone succeeding in every camp, no matter what our opinions on the matter are. To have perspective is to know that we fit in that vast tapestry just as we are, no better no worse, and that the only thing we need to offer is our commitment and enjoyment, and trust that we are already a thread in the greater whole. Sure, we’ll get better. We’ll keep growing. It’s inevitable, especially if we are open to it. But our success does not always depend on how good we perceive ourselves to be. There is someone out there who wants what we can offer, right at this moment. The more we realize this, the more we will see the opportunities that have always existed, waiting just for us.

We are whatever we give our attention to. And the more attention we give to it, the more we become it. Endlessly.

And so I know if I compare myself from a standpoint of anything other than to discover what is unique in me, then I will only find myself emphasizing wrongs that don’t exist in reality. (As best said in Hamlet… “There is nothing either good or bad, only thinking makes it so.”)

How can I fit the world with any other shape than the one I hold? I cannot change my form in this moment anymore than I can bend iron. But I can give my attention to my creations and watch myself expand in line with my creating. I can fall in love with the process of becoming, because I will always be becoming. Always.

Learning from others is one thing. We momentarily compare then abandon the comparison for the knowledge we enjoy as a result of that comparison. But judgment just takes the wind out of our sails, or someone else’s sails.

On the bad days, when my critic mind takes over, I try to take a deep breath and look for something to appreciate… and then I get back to work.

Seven Reasons Not to Create

There are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t create something, but only one good reason why you should. What are your reasons? What is your answer to the ultimate question regarding your creation?

I know a lot of artists and writers who struggle with motivation, allowing all their fears to hold them back from starting on something they are passionate to create. I’ve been one of them. The biggest problem I see for people is that they allow their inner critic to run the show. They editorialize before they even have something concrete for the inner editor to respond to.

There are lots of reasons people generally have for not making something. These are the top seven I usually hear.

  • It’s been done.
  • I don’t know how to start.
  • The project is too big for me.
  • There’s no market for it.
  • I can’t make a living at it.
  • I might not succeed.
  • I might realize I don’t like it.

My counterarguments:

  • Everything may have been done, but no one has done it like you would do it.
  • Something may be a huge project, but the only step that you should focus on is the next step.
  • There’s never a market for anything until someone makes it.
  • You can always make a living at something while you are doing what you love.
  • Not trying at all is a perfect way not to succeed. Besides, success is relative. Most “successful” people have “failed” more than they have “succeeded”.
  • You are completely, 100% free to change your mind about anything. And if you go into something without commitment fears, you are much more likely to see all of the things you love about it (or be able to be honest with yourself about what isn’t working).

Ultimately, there is only one thing you need to ask yourself when you are considering making something.

Do you really care about it? Do you really want to do it? Does it satisfy a yearning in your soul to pursue it?

That’s it. If the answer is yes, get started, do the first thing, and then the second thing, and then the third. You will probably realize as you do it that you have a new way to do it, that starting is actually quite simple, that it isn’t as big as you thought, that you just hadn’t met your market, and you have all the money you need for where you are at right now with your creation. If you are having fun, your parameters for success will be much different, and you will be well set up to succeed admirably.

You don’t need any justification, clarification, or explanation other than, “Yes, I want to do this.” That’s it. You have absolute freedom of choice in your own life, and all that the world needs from you is to be true to yourself.

Start with the premise that life is your ally, and that your only job is to show up and be yourself. Get out of your own way and you’ll be amazed what comes out of you, and what shows up to come to your aid. For goodness sake, have fun!

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5 Tips for Well-Intentioned Success

There are five things you can do to make sure the parameters you set for success are the most fulfilling, most positive, and most attracting for your big (or small) project. Keeping these things in mind throughout all phases of the project will ensure that you get only the best out of your endeavor.

Intentional Success: Tip #1

Define your parameters for success… before you even start preparations. Creating intention is a powerful thing, and it can set the tone for everything on the project, long before you have officially begun. Set the tone for what you want, and you’ll be amazed at what shows up to help you along the way. This also allows you to positively frame any setbacks that appear. You decide what is important and what you can let go.

Set the tone for success from the beginning, and things will line up to support you.

Intentional Success: Tip #2

Hone in on your core intentions and reframe any that come from a place of fear. Are your intentions really positive, go-get-em-tiger aspirations, or are they framed in anticipation of failure? If you think, “God, I couldn’t possibly bear to fall short of X,” then you know you are onto a potentially destructive intention that is all about fear rather than faith. Can you get to the bottom of why X would feel like a failure? If it touches on any hot button topics for you, journal it out or talk to a friend. Change how you think about it until the potential realization of that failure starts to look like a door to a new success.

Stressful projects are made to bring up new things for you to deal with… So try to deal with those negative assumptions ahead of time so they are less likely to make a surprise visit, at the time you want it least! And most of all, be gentle with yourself if they do come up. Breathe and reframe the failure until you can see why it is actually an opening to learning something new.

Artists know about the “happy accident,” where a mistake becomes a brilliant discovery. Leave room for those accidents to become acts of genius!

Intentional Success: Tip #3

Prioritize your intentions so you know what to aim for first. What is the most important intention for you on your project? When you keep this in mind, it helps to focus your thoughts about success more keenly. You may think you want to win a contest or blow away the competition… But maybe you really want to enjoy yourself or make new connections. Sure, maybe there is an edge of competition to what you are trying to achieve, but if you know you really want to put fun first, for instance, you can remind yourself to approach it in a spirit of playful contest. Don’t let others define your intentions for you, either, or you may end up losing motivation right when things are getting heated, when you realize you leapt on board for someone else’s measures of success.

Your primary intention of success will line up all the rest of your intentions, and will give a clear direction for your energy.

Intentional Success: Tip #4

When it’s done… sleep!… then review your successes. You may have to take a break and get some rest after you are done with your Big Thing, because a tired mind is not always the most kind. When you get a bit of downtime (which I hope you have built into your plan!), write in your journal, take some time to meditate, or take yourself on a walk or out to breakfast.

Compare your achievements to your intended goals. Did something go off the rails? Did you reach too high? Or did you go in knowing that it was tough and you were satisfied to have tried? Maybe you framed everything in such a way that you feel like the whole thing was a huge success! Take stock of everything and file it away.

Remember… setting high goals can be invigorating, with the right attitude. And if you feel disappointment about something after the project is done, try to reframe your analysis. You probably achieved things you hadn’t even accounted for and received gifts that you never would have imagined on your own. And if you did your work from the start and set positive intentions, the chances of those things being very easy to find will be extremely high.

Most people wrap up a project by thinking about what they should do differently next time. Just make sure you give ample time to acknowledge the good… without equivocation.

Intentional Success: Tip #5

Tell everyone how awesome you are. Okay, so you don’t spend all the livelong day boring friends and families with tales of your supreme wonderfulness, but definitely toot your horn about what you achieved! You worked hard and you earned it.

Sharing your success with others teaches them to embrace their own success, and it helps you build on your own feelings of esteem for the Next Big Thing.