Good Enough: How To Deal With Perfectionism

Musicians often strive for perfection. But when does good become good enough?



A successful film director was known for his insistence on shooting an abundance of takes for every scene. Frustrated actors performed each scene to the point of exhaustion. When questioned about his perfectionist demands, the director explained his rationale:


"The film is actually created in the editing room. If I can film enough takes of each scene, I will likely have enough material to create something that measures up to my standards. Simply put, my goal is not to film the perfect scene. My goal is to create the perfect edit."


This director was obsessed with perfection.


Perfectionism is prevalent in our society. Approximately 30% of the general population is plagued with perfectionism, and it exists to a much greater extent among those considered gifted.


Most artists have struggled with perfectionism at one time or another. Some of this is due to the inappropriate idolization of past legends. Some of this may be rooted in something more internal.


The problem is that in reality, there is no such thing as perfection. This myth of perfection not only impedes a composer's ability to create exceptional works but it can also hinder their ability to complete these works in the first place.


Musicians are often merciless in their criticism of their own performances, striving to reach the unattainable level of perfection. In their mind, every performance pales in comparison to this ideal standard.


How do we combat and defeat this notion that perfection can actually be achieved? I propose three ways:

  1. Accept "Perfection" as an Unrealistic Goal

  2. Eliminate "All or Nothing" Thinking

  3. Learn to be Satisfied with your Best

Let's look at these one at a time...


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Accept "Perfectionism" as an Unrealistic Goal

Obviously, we know intellectually that perfection is not achievable, and yet somehow we still strive for it. Interestingly, even when I've been perfectly content with a piece of music I've composed, later on, I've often felt differently about it.


Why?


Because as I grow and evolve as a composer, my notion of "perfect" changes. And let's face it, music, like most art is highly subjective.


Eliminate "All or Nothing" Thinking

It's easy to see why "all or nothing" thinking can lead to perfectionist thinking. In the mind of the "all or nothing" thinker, everything is either up or down, black or white, good or bad, and there's no in between. Shades of gray are non-existent. Consequently, this kind of thinking can lead to the conclusion that if there are any flaws in their music, it is bad.


Eliminating this kind of thinking isn't easy, but it involves accepting that your music or your performance can be "good enough", and that good enough is not only acceptable, but in most cases, is something to be proud of.


Learn to be Satisfied with your Best

Eliminating "all or nothing" thinking is just the first step in a establishing a healthy music mentality. If "good enough" is acceptable, then perhaps an even more worthy goal for musicians should be your "best effort". In this case, the goal changes from being result oriented and instead focuses on the effort you put into it.


Because effort is something you can actually control (as opposed to results), and most of us are willing to put forth our very best effort, we create a very manageable and healthy creative environment.


Conclusion

Finally, I would suggest becoming comfortable with embracing the flaws in things. I've always found it so much easier to relate to things that are flawed. It's the imperfections that make most things more appealing, more accessible, and more human.


The same can be said of our music endeavors.


So, do you struggle with perfectionism? What types of things do you do to manage it? Let me know in the comments...

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