The Fear of Not Being Perfect

by Nina Meehan

Two weeks ago, my 6 year old daughter was all set to do a fun art project. She was going to make an animal pet rock. In front of her was a pile of small rocks to select from, acrylic paints, googly eyes and some bit of fake fur. She was super excited and we started thinking about what kind of animal she would make. All of a sudden, her entire mood changed.  Her eyes filled with tears and she curled into a little ball and she looked up at me and says, “Mommy, I’m just so scared it won’t be perfect.” 

My heart breaks. We talk it through with some really challenging questions:

Why do we make art?

What does “perfect” look like? 

Why do you want “perfect”?

If your fear was a creature, what would it look like?

Can we make friends with your fear?

Eventually, she came around to a lesson that she had learned in kindergarten, “Perfect doesn’t exist.” She took a deep breath, chose a rock and spent the next hour making a perfectly imperfect Hummingbird pet rock.  She was smiling and happy during the process and proud of the outcome which she gave to her grandma as a present. 

But, this whole episode really made me reflect on the power that the concept of “perfect” holds over so many of us. As adults, we can completely knock out entire categories of activities for fear that we won’t do it perfectly. But, the creative process is just that, a process.  In the end, the outcome is only the sum total of a number of tiny steps. So, how can we ask ourselves for perfection? We can’t control every single tiny step we take. And the joy of the experience of creating is in finding the fun and flow in each of those steps.

What creative act would you try if you had no fear of failing? What would you want to explore if there was no expectation to be “good” at it? The act of creation is an act of courage because it is putting our own inner self out in the world in some capacity.  Most of us didn’t have a kindergarten teacher who taught us that there is no such thing as perfect, so we need to teach ourselves that it’s ok to be scared and it’s ok to try and it’s ok to just see what happens. When it comes to creativity, It’s not about the destination, it’s about appreciating and enjoying the journey.