I was both excited and anxious/nervous about beginning the eight week journey that would be “Fuck Perfect”. Excited because of how much I believe in the ethic & mandate of Art Not Shame and loved the idea of a deep-dive into perfectionism and exploring how to begin freeing ourselves from its tentacles. Anxious because facilitating such a workshop would be challenging in the most ideal of circumstances and we were going to try to do it online over Zoom! Whoa!
How would I keep my ego (perfectionism) in check? How could I/we plan for the best and allow for things to go as they will in online formats, which is to say, unpredictable? Could we find grace? Could we try our hardest whilst also letting go of the things beyond our control?
Would the activities translate? Could I co-facilitate well with other people when I’m used to doing it alone? When do you push, when do you let go? What if what you’re prepared to let go of is someone else’s sticking point? Would we be able to design a program that would engage and uplift our participants? Would there/could there be a sense of connection through the portal of the internet?
These are some of things I was grappling with as we begin our journey which started with a carefully curated & well executed orientation by our lead facilitator, Melanie Schambach.
She showed us though a variety of arts-based activities how to start teasing apart what perfection looked like and how it showed up in our lives both on a personal level and in the broader societal, social and structural realms.
There are some takeaways from the experience that I’d like to share:
- a) Ridding oneself of feeling like you have to be perfect is a practice. The old cliché, “it’s not a destination, it’s the journey” applies when it comes to perfectionism. I was/we were shown this again and again and were indeed given many occasions to practice the art of letting go of expectation and needing everything to go perfectly.
- b)It is possible to find connection and a feeling of community online over Zoom. It is not without challenges and there’s definitely an ebb and flow, but it is possible! We learned that to increase our chances of more people feeling like they were connected, we had to be mindful about accessibility issues and make sure that we had activities that could modified to meet people where they were at.
- c) Arts based activities can be a wonderful way to introduce big, weighty ideas and conversations. Using imagination, art & role-playing we can build trust among participants and can begin to have meaningful dialogue about difficult subjects like structural racism, ableism or white supremacy.
- d) It’s ok to not cover all the bases in the first go round, and it may even preferable. I *know* this intellectually and from being a music educator for 20 years, but I still found myself struggling with feeling the pressure to make every exercise or component as impactful as possible. If we were going to be looking at say, what intersectionality means, I had to remind myself that it was ok to just introduce things slowly, over a few weeks even. That some things take time to digest and that a simpler, introductory explanation of a new concept is fine and gives you a place to build from.
- e) Dissecting perfectionism and the way it is subconsciously baked into virtually every facet of life is so important and we could all benefit from doing this work more often in community (as opposed to just alone)! Something about witnessing others’ relationships with perfectionism helped me to identify how it shows up for me, and some these ways surprised me because I had never consciously noticed them before.
- f) Sometimes “good enough” is more than enough. Whooo! This is huge for me! I can be a bit of an over-achiever especially when it comes to my work as a musician, music educator. In part this has been because being a woman in a male dominated industry has meant that I’ve had to make sure that I went way above the mark just to make sure that I was taken seriously and treated in a professional manner. Also, it is my experience as a Black woman, that we often have to to even greater distances to be granted the same access/success/recognition as white men who are (seemingly) barely trying. So this idea of being ok with “good enough” is not something that comes naturally to me at all! But I came to see that sometimes good enough is all we have the capacity for in a particular moment if we are also trying to be kind to ourselves. Sometimes being ok with good enough means that we’re more likely to try something new and outside of our comfort zones. If we don’t feel like we can/should only do things that we are amazing at, what might we try and discover about ourselves!?
The overall sense that I was left with when the program drew to a close is that is worthwhile to cast a light on perfectionism. It lurks in the shadows of our minds, chipping away at our self-esteem and willingness to live and express ourselves freely.
After we’ve been inundated since birth by these impossible standards , we begin to inflict liberally them onto ourselves. We can often detect when someone else is being too harsh on themselves and encourage to go easy with themselves, but find it difficult to extend such kindness and grace to ourselves. This exploration has enabled and empowered me to better interrupt my perfectionism. I recognize that the conditioning has been lifelong and so it is unlikely that it won’t creep up in me from time to time. But once you have brought something out into the light, really turned it over and examined every bump and crevice— well, then you know that thing, and knowing is power! I can interrupt my perfectionist tendencies better now, because I can actually see and recognize them.
What I’ve witnessed is that most of this ideal of perfect that I’ve been striving for isn’t even of me. It is not mine! And if there was such a thing as “perfect”, the things that I was harping and getting strung up on—they definitely aren’t it! They aren’t even close.
I want to hear my own kind and compassionate voice inside my head before I hear my parents’ judgement, before I imagine what my peers may think about the choices I’ve made, before I think horrible thoughts about the changes my body has gone through since I had life-saving surgery that also resulted in early menopause & subsequent hormonal weight gain.
I want my true self to lead my thoughts, and when she can’t lead because perfectionism, white supremacy and patriarchy cloud things, I want her to at least be able to be the interrupter. She’s getting better at that and Fuck Perfect helped enable her to by bringing the unconscious to consciousness.
Lastly, it helped solidify something I already knew and believe— imagination is one of the keys to creating a better and more equitable world. We have to be able to imagine someone else’s experience to be able to access more compassion for experiences that are different from our own. We have to be able to imagine something else so that we can create it, but it can be hard to imagine anything else when society reinforces that we must submit and conform to be happy, worthy, successful, etc. Some of the exercises that we did allowed people to make space for imagining, for re-writing “the rules”. I heard several participants express that through our arts-based explorations they felt better able to imagine something different, something better. They came to see that they could use their voices to make it happen, even in the smallest of ways, and that gave them a sense of hope they hadn’t had in a long time.