The Pitfalls Of Perfection: Time To Abandon The Pursuit
Seeking perfection stifles sharing; self-acceptance fosters deeper artistic expression.
This year I set a personal musical goal to learn and record all twelve movements of “The Seasons” Op.37 for the piano by Tchaikovsky. At almost halfway through the year I had learned how to play half the songs but had recorded none.
Fear held me back.
I could easily blame it on the lack of poor audio recording devices making it impossible to create a clean recording, which is true (but only part of the story). In reality, I feared that my inevitable “less than perfect” performances would damage my reputation as a pianist and piano teacher.
This fear of what others would think of me has plagued me for years that even caused me to walk away from playing piano for a few years (That’s a story for another time.) My desire to be acceptable to these unknown others caused me to think small, hide my abilities, and judge myself harshly. So for years, I chose to not record my performances or to keep the few I did have hidden from public view.
Despite these fears, I had a promise to myself to keep and a piano studio full of students to inspire and encourage. It was time to accept the challenge.
I pressed record.
“Wow, I’m doing this!”
Despite the nerves that always arrive when I press record, I made it through the selection in one piece.
Then I bravely played the recording back to myself. As expected, I found some errors. I could have included more rubato at times, pedal in other passages, and a gentler touch on a few chords.
Frustrated, I almost deleted the recording.
"Don't do that. Pause. Trust the process and share the recording with someone."
I decided to trust this inner voice of mine and sent the recording off to a fellow musician as a way to push past the edges of my comfort zone and receive some constructive feedback.
In the email accompanying the recording, I mentioned that I wasn’t completely pleased with my recording and musical interpretation of the piece. Essentially, I pre-apologized for sharing an “imperfect” recording with him as a way of preparing myself for any negative criticism I might receive.
“Am I really going to send this?”
"I did it. Now I wait for a response."
A few days later, I had my answer. “What a beautiful performance! Gorgeous!”
Their congratulatory email also contained the following story that served as the perfect reminder and lesson about the pitfalls of perfectionism.
There was a famous jazz musician that once was told, “That was amazing! You sounded great.” And he replied, “You should hear what I heard!”
How true is that story! As a musician, I've been trained to listen accurately for mistakes and to seek perfection in my playing. As a result, I am often more critical of my playing than those who are listening.
Yes, there will always be some areas I could alter, improve, or change. Yet, if I wait for perfection before sharing my music with others, my audience and I will miss out on the beauty of the soul-filled wordless exchange of music.
I’m realizing now that my pursuit of being found acceptable fed my desire to achieve the unreachable destination of "perfect." This prevented me from sharing the fullness of my authentic self with others.
That is no way to live.
I'm beginning to flip that internal script.
It has taken me a while to get to this point. I'm not fully sure what precipitated the shift. Perhaps it is age, sheer exhaustion of living in fear, or my increased levels of self-acceptance, self-love, and confidence.
Whatever it is, I'm realizing that there is no such thing as "perfect" to be found in music or in life. I'm learning to separate my worth from my performance and am beginning to show up as my best and yet messy self. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue excellence. That journey has, in many ways, served me well. However, the fixation on achieving perfection at all times has been extremely detrimental to my mental well-being.
Now, as I fearlessly share my imperfect self I'm noticing that my performances are more heart-centered, effortless, and raw than they once were. I've felt this shift in other areas of my life as well– in my writing, poetry, artwork, and even my personhood.
I'm so glad I took the risk of sharing that recording with another soul. The lessons learned from that experience taught me a powerful lesson that was decades in the making.
Now, I write, play, create, and am myself with reckless abandonment, knowing that who I am and what I have to offer this world deserves to be seen by others and by myself.
Food for Thought:
What is one area of your life or work you have resisted sharing with others because it isn't perfect?
Envision what it would feel like to live in trust that inherent value is not tied to your performance.
Then give it a try. Identify a safe person in your life with whom you can share your talents. Be bold and share your efforts with them. As you grow in confidence, build on that experience, and begin to share even more of your work with others in the future.
Remember, who you are and what you create deserves to be seen - even in its imperfect messiness.
If you are looking for a safe person to guide you into a deeper knowledge of how to play the piano, I would be honored to serve you in that way.
I delight in bringing the joy of music into hearts and homes through personalized remote piano lessons that will leave you feeling seen, accepted, and confident.
The process is simple:
1. Schedule a call to talk about your goals.
2. Select a lesson time.
3. Take your first lesson!