The Perfectionism Trap: How to be perfectly imperfect

Today I’m diving into the murky waters of perfectionism (and if you’d prefer to listen to the audio click here).

Perfectionism is that ever-present shadow that looms over us all, always quick to criticise but never offering a helping hand. You might be an artist like me, attempting to translate your soul onto canvas,(sort of!), in my case with abstract landscapes and portraits, or maybe you’re trying to create the perfect sculpture, career, or even a sourdough starter. Either way, I think it’s time for a fresh perspective to free ourselves from the trap of expectations and ‘ideal outcomes’ that we seem to have stepped into.

The Art of Perfecting the Imperfect

In my career as an artist, I’ve honestly amassed a collection of paintings that, to put it kindly, are better suited for the bonfire. Roll on 5 November. They didn’t sell. They’re riddled with flaws. If they were ever embodiments of my vision, it was clearly having an off day. They’re failures. But let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment: What if these aren’t blunders, but rather important footnotes in the grand narrative of my personal development? Perhaps these creative mishaps are less about crafting masterpieces for gallery walls and more about navigating a path that’s all about discovering my true self, sprinkled with a healthy dose of laughter when I look back at these paintings and can’t believe I actually shared them on Instagram.

The same is true of everything I’ve done as I attempt to grow my art business on social media. I think any endeavour on social media is akin to teaching a cat how to play fetch: it’s possible, but expect to be met with bewilderment, some disdain, and slow, unpredictable progress at every turn. But every ‘mistake’ made in the name of growth and building a following, every Instagram post that flopped, has secretly been a lesson for patience, resilience, and understanding the multifaceted concept of value (and discovering it’s not always in likes).

Life: The Ultimate Abstract Art

And this pursuit of perfection and failing to achieve it isn’t restricted to life on the canvas. It seeps into every crack of our lives I think. For me, it shows up as a stellar track record of not keeping in touch with my family despite my best intentions because of my magical ability to become so engrossed in my work that nothing else comes onto my radar – I definitely develop complete amnesia regarding the existence of a gym but also the existence of anything outside my studio. But I know that’s not right. That’s not a well balanced perfect life. Far from it. And let’s not talk about my diet – it is less healthy now than when I was in university living on toast and pot noodles. So the way I live my life when I’m engrossed in my art is far from ideal. Far from perfect. I am far from perfect as a well rounded individual. BUT despite these less-than-ideal qualities, the journey continues. I keep moving forward, reflecting, adjusting (or at least trying to), embracing each learning and growth opportunity and navigating through challenges with persistence.

The Trap of the Picture-Perfect

Going back to art, probably a big part of the reason why I lose myself so utterly in my art when creating, going well past the point where it’s helpful, is that I think perfectionism is a siren song that lures us onto the rocks of ‘just one more tweak’ and ‘it’s not quite right yet.’ It’s a paralysing force, breeding a fear of failure so strong it can stop us from just letting a painting rest, just be, giving it time to settle and let us know later what else it might need. Ultimately it can exhaust us so much we no longer have the energy to even start because we know we will never attain what we want and we might destroy what we like in the process. But the truth is perfection is a myth, it’s an unattainable mirage. Chasing it is the best way to miss the beautiful forest for the trees, or the hidden masterpiece for the brushstrokes.

How to Suck at Things Gracefully

So, how do we escape all this? The key I think is to hold onto our imperfections tightly and see every slip-up and faceplant as a crucial part of our journey. Every misjudged brushstroke and every marketing mishap—they’re not detours; they’re just us taking the scenic route.

Celebrate the Wobbly Steps

I think we need to shift our gaze from the glittering prize we hope to get at the end of whatever we’re making now (and whatever that prize looks like to you), we need to look instead at the glorious mess we’re making right now and toast to that, to the small victories, the hard-learned lessons, and all the incremental growth. Because there is growth. We grow with every painting, every mistake, ever failure that isn’t a failure. Art, like life, isn’t about the finish line; it’s about the adventure, the mishaps, and the unexpected turns that make for the best stories.

Embrace the Art of Bumbling

Instead of treating our setbacks as foes in our tale then, let’s roll out the red carpet for them. Let’s welcome them, get to know them, understand why they show up when they do, and let’s use this knowledge to walk ahead with greater confidence. Failure can be a wise instructor, uncovering truths that success and big wins sometimes overlook.

Be Your Own Best Friend

So it’s time to treat ourselves with the kindness we’d extend to a friend who’s had a bit too much to drink and is attempting karaoke. Recognise that you’re doing your best with the tools you have. Being kind to ourselves also fosters resilience, getting us through the ‘I can’t believe I just did that’ moments.

Find Your Tribe

And share your tales of woe. Connect with those who understand the weight of perfectionism and the liberation of throwing it off. These connections can offer support, laughter, and the occasional reality check we all need. And if you’re looking for a Facebook Group that can offer that then join my group Bold Brushes & Brave Hearts here.

A Nod to My Fellow Flawed Geniuses

So to all the perfectionists out there beating themselves up over every little misstep: it’s time to let that stuff go. Your worth isn’t tied to your ability to avoid mistakes

Here’s to embracing our beautifully imperfect journeys, together.