The Fear of Imperfection and How I Got Over It
Advice to my younger self: Don’t stop yet.
Fear of imperfection stifles vitality and momentum. There are many projects that I wish I had seen through, but didn’t because they weren’t going to be good enough to display. Even though I never intended for these to be lucrative or name-building endeavors, the simple thought that they weren’t likely to be ground-breaking drained me of all my motivations. It doesn’t really matter how amazing that one album you wrote with your best friend would have been if neither of you are serious about a music career, but it would have been fun as hell.
Fear of not being good enough misses the point of why you are attempting to do that thing in the first place - because you want to do it. The minute your let your fear obstruct your desire is the minute you lose focus and drive -- the two things you will need if want to get better.
We need to learn to push past our initial fear and self-disapproval even when we don’t love what we’re working with. Instead, we tend to give into our insecurities and stop before we’ve even tried. So we start a task, become frustrated with it’s lackluster reality, and jump ship.
And we all do it, all the time.
Didn’t workout for a full hour today? Fuck it. Pizza party, ladies! Forgot about a loved one’s birthday? Yeah, you should totally wait another week to call them. Been making a mix-tape for your lover for over a year, but the flow is still off? Yeah, they probably wouldn’t have appreciated it anyway…
And the beat goes on.
While I remain challenged by the idea of “good enough” here is what I have learned so far:
- Just start – Whatever you really want to do, no matter how silly, just take the first small steps and let go of thinking what may happen.
- Gain momentum – I really feel like 5 minutes into anything I get into a groove that can build, until the next step…
- Don't stop – The next step, switching lanes or whatnot, can feel like starting over sometimes, so if this becomes overwhelming, take a break or skip to an easier task.
- Work with your emotions - while working on my graduate thesis I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in sheer panic about the deadlines I would fail to meet. Instead of fighting sleep, I went with the anxiety and got my work organized. Once I had everything laid out, I would see I would be able to get most things done on time and my anxiety would decrease and I would be able to get back to bed within the hour or so.
- Call a friend – That’s what they’re there for. They remind you of why you are about to crush this. They also are smart, funny, thoughtful and clear-sighted when you are caught up in the minutiae, so drop them a line and get some quality advice.
- What’s the worst that could happen? – One of my best friends always reminds me of this comically ominous phrase and it always does the trick. We sit there in a tete-a-tete, while I rattle of possibly terrible scenarios and she responds: “are any lives lost?” And while this might seem like we’re avoiding the real issue, it has an immediate way of putting things into perspective. You realize that things are rarely that dire, and that you could handle whatever it is that you think might happen.
- Finally, get it done. Do it to the best of your ability, but don't do it over and over again, Unless this is your magnum opus, get a rough sketch completed, go over it two to three times, and wrap it up.
Here is my challenge to all of us: try something new and look stupid doing it.
I like to do something public and physical, like chopping a tree down for the first time or roller skating backwards. Big risks, big payoff (just please, don’t be an idiot and hurt yourself).
But even just doing something new and small by yourself at home boosts confidence. The only way you build confidence in yourself is by doing what you think you can't. You may not meet your expectations the first time, but simply by doing it once, you make it easier to do it better next time.
Trust yourself enough to be imperfect. Enjoy what you do or start doing something else.
But don’t sell yourself short before you’ve even started.
Ashley Buchalter is a social researcher who promotes inclusive and equitable policy formation and implementation. She wrote her master's thesis on racial and economic integration in the NYC public school system. The women in her life never cease to amaze and push her further.
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