“It’s perfect!” (and other lies that stop us learning)

I have recently joined ToastMasters to improve my public speaking. So I was surprised by my own inner self-talk while preparing my very first speech, known as an icebreaker.

“I’m not going to share a simple story about myself,” I thought. “That’s too easy. I’m going to share a message that will leave them utterly changed. People will leave that room blown away with my insight and they will want more. And I won’t use notes. Everyone will be so impressed.”

Eww. The goal of those thoughts was completely against why I had joined ToastMasters in the first place. I had signed up to learn, acknowledging that I don’t have this all together right now. I had a genuine willingness to learn. And yet, when I started preparing for this speech, my willingness to be taught by others morphed into a quest for perfection and accolades.

“We unrealistically expect and demand success from ourselves and recognition of that success from others.” - Julia Cameron
Drawn with Faber-Castell PITT artist pen black XS and S by Hannah

Success! You're on the list.

On the one hand, I was caught in the internal struggle of perfectionism: I needed it to be absolutely right before releasing it to the world.

On the other hand, I was looking to others to validate my arrival.

As perfectionists, we want others to tell us our work is marvellous. We want standing ovations and encores when we first arrive. That’s how we know our work is perfect.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do our best. There is occasionally a strike of beginners luck. But it becomes a problem when we start expecting a response from others to validate how wonderful we are.

It was incredibly selfish of me to think that my ToastMasters group would have nothing but praise. Criticism is built into the program as it provides an opportunity to learn and develop. Fellow ToastMasters are there with the mindset of helping each other, helping me. Yet, my own ego and perfectionism would undermine this feedback I was in fact asking for.

That’s the tipping point, I believe. When we expect “recognition of that success” from others, we are trying to control things outside of our control. That’s what perfectionism is, in fact, a control trip.

We want everything – our experience, the reactions of others, the work – all firmly within our control. To open ourselves to the messy business of learning, of imperfect action and constructive criticism is to relinquish too much control, take on too much risk.

So we don’t.

Nothing goes out into the world. No feedback comes back in from the world. Stagnant, our fear and ego ferment.

“Who are we to teach if we have not mastered the craft?” We ask ourselves, to justify our lack of action. “Who are we to create, make, write, suggest, promote?”

Imperfect action is the only thing that can change this state of being.

One shaky, messy step forward into the mud. Exposed, vulnerable and uncomfortable. Not just asking for feedback but willing to hear it, willing to apply it, willing to allow ourselves to be imperfect and for these imperfections to be clear to us and everyone else.

That is how we grow.

As we build this habit of bravely receiving feedback, we are able to develop our craft. Each shaky step falls on firmer ground. Soon, we’re through the marshes and heading to the highlands.

Will you continue to cling to your perfectionism and choke your growth? Or will you be open to the truth that you’re not perfect but you are capable or developing?

Here’s my raw image, pre-editing in it’s imperfection…

The raw, unedited picture with pencil masks. It took an hour to draw.

Success! You're on the list.

Published by hanfitz.creates

I'm Hannah, a business coach for creative professionals. The world needs creativity and innovation: this is how we progress as humans. But, the creative journey is paved with challenges: we're told the story of the starving artist since we're children, our brain is hard wired to resist anything new (like creative ideas), we doubt our ability and worthiness to succeed and we crush our ingenuity with judgement and comparison. Yet, we know our purpose is to create. I help visual artists, designers and illustrators bridge this gap with my uniquely curated knowledge and experience of graphic design, finance, human behaviour and neuroscience. You have invested time and resources into their technical skill; now, it's time to invest in your mindset and strategy. After working with me, you can confidently communicate the value of your work, attract clients and charge what you're worth through multiple income streams. This frees up more time and energy to do what you're best at: create.

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