I am what you would call a recovering perfectionist. Perfectionism, for the most part, has not been my friend. I am sure I would have produced a lot more musical material over the years if I were not so afraid of it not being perfect. Even now, I have edited the last two sentences twice because I want to get the sentence structure perfect. I probably still didn’t get it right; I am not an English major. But correct English is not a passion of mine so I’m able to let it go.
Perhaps perfectionism only gets in the way of someone who is doing what they are passionate about.
I read that the 80’s band Tears for Fears became paralyzed by perfectionism. Hot off the heels of their very successful “Songs From the Big Chair” release in 1985 they immediately took five years to produce their followup at a cost of over a million pounds. Yes, “The Seeds of Love” is an amazing record, but five years and £1,000,000?
As I venture forth into my full-time music career, I am confronted by the following question: Am I willing to suck? My success and even my survival hinges on the answer to this question.
It was a few years ago when I first heard the quote (attributed to G.K. Chesterton) that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” I take great comfort from this and I see it as a key to recovering from my perfectionism.
I was in Ecuador a few months ago and I was impressed by how quickly our host had learned Spanish. He did not know a lick of Spanish when he first arrived 2 1/2 years ago, but he now speaks it fluently, comprehending and speaking at a normal cadence, i.e. very fast like the locals do. How did he do it? He told me “Be sure you make at least 100 mistakes a day.” I am currently taking a beginning Spanish course and it frustrated me at first when I would get things wrong, but I am recovering from this. Instead, I welcome mistakes as it reinforces the learning process. And I seem to be making less mistakes.
Applying this to my music career, I have to be willing to suck, at least at first. I am in the midst of composing instrumental music for the intent of shopping it to production music houses. These are firms that film and television music supervisors turn to when they want a piece of music for a particular segment of a movie or show. I am working up ideas at the rate of at least one per day. I am willing for them to suck at first. I am willing to not have these ideas finished right away. I am willing to revise, rewrite, or abandon ideas if they don’t seem to be working.
My main focus here is quantity and expediency, not necessarily quality. Julia Cameron has a saying, “Take care of the quantity and God will take care of the quality”. The most important thing is to write, write, compose, compose, produce, produce and not get bogged down in whether or not it is excellent. I think the lesson here is that it is more important to learn how to work than it is to create masterpieces. I also think the cream will eventually rise to the top.
So here I am, a perfectionist in recovery, totally willing to suck. Let’s see what happens.