I have 2 girls who approach making things very differently. Mia goes at something fearlessly and often without a plan. She wings it and works in broad strokes. She’s not the neatest, nor does she care. When she’s done, she’s done. Claudine is the more meticulous one. Despite being nearly 3 years younger than her older sister, she can color inside the lines more accurately and has done so for several years already. She labors over projects and can spend hours drawing tiny details. She is very focused. The difference between the two was never more apparent when I happened to find Claudine very focused with a pen and paper a while ago. She was concentrating on tracing a paragraph of tiny Korean characters through the back of a scrap piece of paper that she found near my dad’s printer. The writing was all backwards since she was tracing from the back of the paper, but if you held it up to a mirror it was legible. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid do anything like this before. Mia wanted to try it too, but after carefully tracing 2 characters in reverse, she scribbled the rest of the sentence away.
It’s both amusing and odd to be able to see yourself in your child. Can you guess who takes after me? But sometimes I wish I was a bit more like Mia – looser and less controlled, especially when I see how Claudine’s perfectionism can torture her. My frustrations don’t manifest as 20 minute crying tantrums when I can’t get something just right, but who knows, maybe that would be a healthier way of releasing frustrations than internalizing it. I find it really interesting how these behaviors and personality traits manifest so early in children and I wonder what that means for her as she struggles with this as she gets older. Maybe she’ll outgrow it, but maybe she won’t.
I know I’ve been fighting these perfectionism demons forever since I was a kid myself. Looking back, I can honestly say that I probably didn’t enjoy the experience of making things as much as I should have. Even as a child, I created art for an audience and less for myself. It was rare that I made something just for the sake of making something because I was always too focused on the end product – the end product being perfect. Anything less was unacceptable and would often result in a project getting abandoned or worse, sometimes never started. How sad! When the fear of making anything less than perfect prevents you from even trying at all. But I’ve been guilty of that far too many times than I’d like to admit to myself. So how does one reverse this? How do you learn to enjoy making just for the sake of making and not care what the finished result will be? How do you start a project without all the pressures of it being “A Project” with a capital P?
I think I’m beginning to realize that I’ve been putting a lot of extra pressure on myself in the last few years. I’ve been stuck in this mindset that everything that I’m working on in my spare time needs to be some kind of revenue generating product, whether it’s new stuff for the business or some other kind of business venture. There’s been so much pressure, that things are happening painfully slow or not happening at all which often results in guilt for not making things happen fast enough. I’m always harboring this general feeling that I’m not doing enough. But I know where this is coming from. This is all coming from a place of wanting to have our business support us entirely one day so there is less pressure on my freelance work. It’s about trying to build a future when the current view of the future is hazy at best. There has been a lot of anxiety about that lately. The lack of a plan, the lack of any real feeling of movement or growth. Suddenly, 10 years before the first kid goes off to college doesn’t seem so far away anymore. How will we afford college? How will we retire? Will we still be doing what we’re doing 5, 10 years from now? It’s enough to keep you up at night.
But then something sort of happened this summer. I did nothing. I spent whole chunks of time doing nothing without feeling any guilt. It was okay. I even had vague visions of actually reading a book again or picking up a pencil to draw. That is not to say that all the pressure, all that “stuff” isn’t still floating around my head. It’s still there and will always be there, but the guilt has tempered down.
I find it amusing that I’ve needed to learn how to do nothing, and by definition, “nothing” meaning doing things that have no bearing or weight on the future. I’ve been racing against an imaginary ticking time bomb of my own creation for so long that I’ve lost sight of the fact that you can’t force ideas. I’m still waiting for a really good idea, but I’ll have to be a little more patient and a lot more relaxed. And this perfectionism thing? Comes in handy for certain tasks, but it’s a major pain in the ass for anything else. So my summer goal aside from doing more of nothing, is to make something – anything really – and not care if it’s perfect or mediocre or just downright ugly. Just make for the sake of making, nothing more.