Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The "Perfect" Hat

I wear a lot of hats – literally and figuratively.

Sometimes I wear two hats at one time -- two hats that are always in conflict with each other: The Artist Cap (Creative) and the Judges chapeau-bras (judgmentally self-critical). Part of me wants to wear the hat of totally free expression; the other part of me want to be too judgmental – a perfectionist. The result is often paralysis to even begin a project or unhappiness with the end result when I do. Believe me, perfectionism is nothing to be proud of.

Perfectionism (or claimed perfectionism) is a mental obstacle that can stop us from not starting or starting and not finishing projects and, as a result, causes stress, tension, fatigue, and unhappiness.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wear this hat ALL of the time – it just sort of finds its way on my head from time to time. It’s just hard not to beat myself up sometimes.

Case in point (two cases):


The Cooking with Beer Challenge.

For the record, I’ve completed 9 recipes (69 to go in 107 day). For the most part, these have been just fine. In fact, last night's Berry Ale Chicken and Matt’s Cowboy Drunk Beans were excellent. Ms. Lucy’s Lagered Cornbread was one of the best cornbread's I've ever eaten. But… I can’t help focusing on the Sweet and Sour IPA Slaw which ended up being tossed down the garbage disposal (sorry Lucy Saunders, I have no idea what I did wrong there).
Too hard on myself? I know that I should learn to enjoy my imperfect results, but…

Case in point number two:
Woodworking.

In the classic Harry Chapin song “Mr. Tanner,” the dry cleaner who loves to sing finally takes the biggest risk of his life, spends all his savings, goes to New York, and auditions for critics.

Mister Tanner was a cleaner from a town in the Midwest.
And of all the cleaning shops around he'd made his the best.

But he also was a baritone who sang while hanging clothes.
He practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.

His friends and neighbors praised the voice that poured out from his throat.

They said that he should use his gift instead of cleaning coats.


But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
and it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.

And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.

He did not know how well he sang; It just made him whole.


The evening came, he took the stage, his face set in a smile.

And in the half filled hall the critics sat watching on the aisle.

But the concert was a blur to him, spatters of applause.

He did not know how well he sang, he only heard the flaws.


Yes, he only heard the flaws. It’s sometimes that way with me, too.

I recently finished a coffee table for my older daughter Amy and her husband Mark.
It originally started as a prototype, but it turned out pretty close to what she wanted. A couple of coats of stain and three coats of Polyurethane and my daughter loved it (I have to admit that I though it turned out okay); however, I can't help hearing the flaws.

Here is is after Amy decorated the shadow box I had built into the table.

I know that it’s impossible to avoid mistakes, but when the perfectionist hat goes on, I tend to beat myselves up way too often. Large mistakes can be devastating for everyone, but even small mistakes can create intense anxiety for some of us (me).

There is hope. Yes, there are areas where I put on my judges hat and say to myself and the world, "I can't be perfect, so why even try?" But fortunately, I’ve also learned to be a risk taker from time to time -- with many of those risks paying off.


When Sir Hook and I first sat down with our "Artists Hats" to create the Knights of Moleskine, Spirit, and Ale, one of the first tenants or core believes was: “Free to Create Without Judgment.” Truth be told, I didn’t write that to plead with others to not judge me, I wrote it to remind me to not be too critical of me.


My hope is that someday the stress of perfectionism will soon fade into an appreciation for the present – without criticism and judgment. At least that’s what I keep working on.


Oh, did I mention the Honey Ale Custard Bars (which looked pretty and tasted fine, but never came close to setting)
or the picture frame I made that’s not quite sqare? Or the typo in that last sentence, or… Damn, there I go again! I know, I know... I need to put on my "lighten up" hat!



Sir Bowie "Hat's Off to the Risk Takers" of Greenbriar

5 comments:

Sir James of Taylor said...

My sister calls herself a recovering perfectionist. I used to have that problem more so than I do now, but I too am recovering. Another person close to me is the classic example of a perfectionist down to it being the mother's fault. At work I wanted to be the most accurate and consistent as possible. However, after a number of years of working for people who just want it out quickly, that area has changed as well.

The real question is, are you recording the recipes that you like so that you can repeat them for us all later?

Lady Suzanne of Greenbriar said...

what did I tell Sir Bowie after I read this? "It's Perfect!"

And it is >>> for all of us Recovering Perfectionists nodding our heads along as we read.

Lady Suzanne,
who was taught well by a white-gloved mother the rules of perfection -- then just when they were well learned, Mom changed the rules -- seems that at mid-life you realize that living happily is more important than living perfectly --

Luckily, I also learned that although you must have a spotless house and spotless children, you can open your doors to friends, family and countless slumber parties through the years. And survive.

Though not dusting every day and having friends over on the spur of the moment is much more fun!

THIS is the lesson I hope my daughters have learned from us - a little dirt never hurt and friends and family times are priceless : )

Anonymous said...

Nice Bit of Woodworking there Bowster. Pop's making something for his Daughtie..awwwww You still got it Big Fella... noone can take that away from you. :))

Now how about making Lady Suzanne a pedistal, to put her up on, while you do all the chores.(.tee hee :))

Sir D ( who is now going to catch up on all these reciepes ) of O

Lady Suzanne of Greenbriar said...

Sir Bowie is at woodworking class tonight... I don't want a pedastal, that sounds lonely...more interested in a camp chair for two for our upcoming campout!

you know, since our "second honeymoon" in England, we have rewritten the chores/tasks/opportunities lists and it's a much different lifestyle since there are just the two of us (except when kids come to visit) and we're both working short weeks...a whole new ballgame as we say

Life is interesting, you just never know where the journey is leading

Sir B and I met thirty years ago this month...wonder where the next thirty years will lead us?

(hope at least one bit is back to the meadows with all of you!)

Sir Hook of Warrick aka "David K Wells" said...

Paralysis by analysis is a byproduct of perfectionism. I always admire Sir Bowie's talents more than he admires himself. He could use a little of my impulsive nature and I could use some perfectionism. I was never afraid to make mistakes, that's how you learn. Most great people, not that I'm putting myself in that category, fail far more than they succeed...the trick is to never give up trying and not to be so hard on yourself.

The look on Amy's face said that the table was "perfectly flawed"! Learn to live with it and to love yourself as much as those around you. It's so much more enjoyable!

Sir Hook the Brilliantly Flawed of Warrick