The following words are not for brain surgeons, bridge engineers, rocket scientists, wasabi farmers, tightrope walkers, seamstresses, Olympians, or anyone who’s cooking turkey. Because let’s face it:
There are things in this life that require meticulous focus, impeccable conditions, diligent practice, and precise timing.
Some things require nothing but to wait till it’s literally “done,” or else, well, everyone gets food poisoning. Other things are reliant on a honed skill or mastered craft, like [insert every single thing you’ve ever bought a ticket to here].
Think about it. What would concerts and basketball games be like if no one practiced? How bad would wedding receptions be if Bruno Mars and Whitney Houston recorded shoddy songs?
Clearly, there’s a time to believe in the practice-makes-perfect mantra, and as long as we live in a world rife with shiny screens and all the entertaining things, there will always be a place for polished, finished products. (Even then, you’ll always have those moments where Adele forgets her lyrics, LeBron gets suspended, and a Starbucks cup shows up in a Game of Thrones episode, because humans are human. The only person capable of sheer perfection is God.)
Then, there are those things in life that…
…are begging to be seen as-is.
…are beautiful because they’re messy.
…should be pursued before the pursuer is ready.
…exist solely because someone made a mistake. (Um, hi, fireworks, Play-Doh, slinkies, Viagara, and, and, and.)
But it’s hard to know the difference between what should take laser-focus practice and immense patience and what’s good enough for jazz. When you can’t see an obvious green light, it’s tough to know when to just…go. Why is that?
Well, as a struggling perfectionist, I can personally vouch for the following things clouding my go-time confidence, and I know I’m not alone in most of these:
- Too much scrolling through social media.
- Setting silly high standards for myself.
- Comparison: The thief of all joy!
- Expecting perfect conditions.
- Needing it all to line up.*
- Waiting for inspiration.
- Negative self-talk.
- Fear of failing.
- Old trauma.
*Even my lists must look perfect. 😉
But hey, at this moment, I’m writing on my phone (Not waiting for perfect conditions! Woot!), and as I tap away, I realize I’m currently in the thick of some serious healing.
Some say to wait to share till you’re on the other side of stuff like this…but I can’t. Because lately, I’ve been facing one of my biggest fears that’s existed for 24 years, and some fascinating stuff is happening. It must be shared n-o-w.
So, if you’re…
…making any form of art,
…struggling to start or finish you-name-it,
…doing something that requires vulnerability,
…pursuing anything that involves any commitment of the heart,
…waiting until you’re thin enough, smart enough, credible enough, ____ enough,
Well, then. The following story is for you.
Two months ago, I got a wild hair.
While JeeWoo was napping, I sat down at the piano and started recording an Instagram Live.
With a pounding heart and shaky, sweaty hands, I rambled for a few minutes about a song that’s been in progress since 2005, and how I hoped this would inspire others not to “wait until it’s perfect.”
Then, I did a thing that’s terrified me for more than half my life:
Not only did I play the piano for other people, but I played a choppy ditty that wasn’t finished or perfected. In other words, I made mistakes…a lot of them. And I didn’t die.
I did feel like I was sitting there naked with my insides pouring onto the keys, but hey, I did it.
Since that impromptu recital, I’ve gone live four more times. Each time feels like the first time for my shaky fingers, but on the inside, it’s a gym session for my soul. I’m growing. I’m learning. And I had no idea I had to, but I’m healing.
Here’s some of what I’ve been realizing:
Your stuff is better than you think it is. Stop hiding it. Someone needs it.
When I went back to delete that first recital (I know, I know, that’s hilarious on sooo many levels!), I saw a comment from a dear friend that my playing reminded her of the songs that her late mother used to play. That moved me. I kept it posted.
That evening, a friend messaged me. “I absolutely loved your piano post,” she wrote. “I’ve been struggling with similar things recently and that filled me up with joy. Thank you for sharing.”
Boom. When you put something raw like that out into the world, it’s not often you receive immediate feedback that affirms your intentions. Or at least that’s how it goes for me. Or maybe I should stop deleting things. 😉
Thanks to my courage to keep these basically naked performances posted, I’ve been getting some eye-opening comments.
Let’s just say that people think I’m really good, and that surprises me, because all the stuff I’ve shared is cringe-worthy in my eyes. If you just rolled your eyes, I totally get it. But I’m not saying that to brag or fish for compliments. I’m saying it to remind you (and me!) that:
You are and will always be your worst critic, comparison is the devil, and what you think isn’t good is wayyy better than you think.
And heck – even if you faceplant or get weird looks, sharing your thing will still be doing someone an encouraging service just by the act of showing up. Think about those people who brave the dancefloor first. The worse they are at The Wobble, the more permission they give to self-conscious people to get out there and shake it, right?!
What’s holding you back may have deep roots. Like really, really deep. Go digging.
So, when did this all start? When did this fear of playing and making mistakes begin? I asked myself, during one of the 7,000 times I sat down to write this post. (Ha! I know. Hilarious on many levels yet again.) One hour and four scribbled pages in my journal later, I had answers. Oh, I had answers.
When I’d learn songs by ear as a kid, I couldn’t wait to share them with my parents. Ahem. The first song I taught myself was “It’s A Small World” at the age of 4. (!!!)
When I’d tinker on the keys at my grandma’s house, I never worried what she thought. Most of the time, I was putting on pretend performances for huge, imaginary audiences in her living room. When I took lessons in grade school, I was fine playing for my teacher. Of course, I had nerves at the real-life recitals, but who didn’t?
As I got older, things began to change. Before I stopped taking lessons in seventh grade, I told my parents I wanted space to do my own thing and not be forced to play certain songs at certain times. Perhaps I was a little burnt out.
It also wasn’t long since my Grandma Dorothy, the one who gave me her baby grand, had passed away. She was the first family member I lost. I loved her so much it still hurts. Yep, tearing up as we speak. She was the funniest, most talented lady who didn’t give a damn what anyone thought of her. She was electric. Her red fingernails and sequined sweaters were as radiant as her magnetic personality and as bold as the boogie-woogie she so effortlessly played. The world literally got quieter when she left.
With her piano now in the house I was growing up in and not where she used to be, things just didn’t feel the same. Perhaps it was too painful to play. Perhaps I believed my own playing couldn’t compare to what those keys had always known. So, I stopped…for a long time. I grieved…for a long time.
As the years passed and my timid, sensitive heart was thrown to the wolves of the real world, I experienced some stuff in my teens and early 20s. Stuff that impacted me in ways I was unaware of until that recent journal sesh.
- When a boy makes up an embarrassing rumor about you and 20+ boys in your class laugh at you every time you walk by them, how does that not shut you down?
- When someone you trust violates everything you thought to be true about them, how does that not stop you in your tracks? When you tell someone at your university before telling family, and they tell you no one would believe you in court because of the situation you put yourself in with him…um…you get quiet.
- When you land an internship at a magazine “for women with something to get off their chests” and the staffers don’t even call you by your first name (Intern, change the lightbulb!) and they tell you to be quiet and wo-man the phone during story idea meetings, how does that not throw you off?
- When playing the piano is more vulnerable for you than speaking and your voice is quieted by shame, no wonder it’s scary to share that piece of you with others.
There are way more stories and stories within those stories that belong in a memoir or maybe a paid therapy session. 😉 But the point of sharing what I’ve shared thus far is this:
Although it can be tough, it can obviously be impactful to look back in time and ask yourself some uncomfortable yet vital questions. It can be good to see where it started and sit with the answers for a while. But don’t wallow in it. Let it be fuel for a shiny, new chapter.
As C.S. Lewis once said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
You’ve got a fire to light. You’ve got a story to change. And if fear of mistakes / failure has been holding you back, too, then here’s what you’ve got to do:
Pursue something for no reason. let yourself mess up. It just might ignite something else.
When I sat down to record that first Instagram Live, my only plans were to face my fear and hopefully inspire others. There were no tangible expectations. No pressure to have a completed product. No one to grade me. Just space to be present in the process of something. Room to mess up and keep going. Room to be me.
I had no idea that these little videos would be gym sessions for another thing I’ve been stuck in must-be-perfect mud with: my first book.
Oh, my worrrd. (Pun intended.) By not waiting for perfection on the piano stuff, I’m seeing all the things I’ve been waiting on with the book stuff. (Waiting for silence, inspiration, three-hour blocks, and, and, and.) It’s so infuriating, it’s now motivating.
So…what about you? What have you been stuck in the “must-be” mud with? Climb out of it for a bit and go find something else to tinker with. See what happens.
Maybe it’s an old sport or hobby you, too, quit as a kid because you got burnt out or the wolves of the real world convinced ya you weren’t good enough or worthy enough. Maybe it’s something you’ve been avoiding because it’s just “not the same” as it used to be. Maybe it’s the thing you used to do for no reason.
Maybe you used to make art for no other purpose but to, well, make art – and you miss it so much your fingers hurt. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try horseback riding or calligraphy. Maybe you have a notebook of ideas you’ve never pursued at all. Maybe you’ve been so overwhelmed by the success of your favorite authors that you haven’t even started writing your own story.
You have full permission to GO for it in a small, ridiculously possible way. And you’re encouraged to immediately share your progress. It doesn’t have to be on social media. It could be a text to an old friend. It could be placed between cereal boxes at the store. It could be sidewalk-chalked in the park, placed on your mantle, or played with all your windows open.
Pick your canvas and let it flow, baby, because someone out there needs it – even if you think it’s crap. Especially if you think it’s crap. Go be that first person on the dance floor. Get the party started.
I guarantee it won’t be perfect, but it will be perfect for you. And it just might land perfectly with someone else.
So, don’t wait.
And fall again.
Just do it.
Just play it.
Just speak it.