The uncomfortable reality of perfectionism is that it encourages creative-sequestration. If you know you won’t be able to do something well, you’re less likely to try so as to avoid failure or less-than-perfection.
This was true in my case, at least. When I was younger I was terrified of coming across as less than I was capable of, and that meant I seldom stepped outside my comfort zone. It was a small world I lived in, but everything was where it was supposed to be. A closet-sized room without a mote of dust in sight.
I’m going to be 29-years-old tomorrow, and something I’ve learned in the years since back when I was perfect is that real growth is found in showing your brush strokes. There’s value in presenting a finished work, of course, and in knowing how to polish something so that it’s equal to your current level of expertise. But just like a painting, your process and flaws and experiments with the medium add personality to the work you do. They’re what bring texture to the transparent; density to the intangible.
The moment I began to allow my flaws to shine through was the moment I began to have a style that was really, truly my own. That style has evolved, and will continue to do so, but it’s something that allows me to look at my work and say, “Yes, this is mine. This is me.”
Even when looking back at works I’ve done in the past that no longer meet my standards (which have also evolved), I can see it there, swirling and wisping and flooding the canvas (whatever the metaphorical canvas might be) with hints of my voice. Signatures that are invisible unless you know what you’re looking for, and that are integral to what makes the work special.
Today, perfection is a moving target. An idea that means something different for every single thing I produce. Showing my brush strokes has given me more than just a voice within my work: It’s given me the freedom to take that work in whichever direction I choose, and recognizing the good in whatever emerges at the other end.
Update: April 14, 2017
I wrote this the day before my 29th birthday, and today I’m just two days away from my 32nd.
I wouldn’t trade a single year I’ve lived for anything. I hoped that would continue to be the case as I left my 20s and moved into my 30s, but I didn’t know if things would suddenly change, suddenly shift, once I crossed over. I know that the units of time we use are subjective, and that they bear no actual meaning when it comes to biology; nothing actually changes in us as we celebrate our birthdays, except perhaps on the psychological level. But I’d seen enough people change, maybe because of their own doubts or perceptions of what it means to be an adult, maybe because of their ideas of what others think they should be doing, which they then internalize.
I feel fortunate, either way, to be where I am, doing what I’m doing, and to have lived the years I’ve lived. Awkward, incorrect brush strokes and all.