The Curse of Being a Perfectionist in Art

Happy Sunday to you!

I just spent the most beautiful weekend with my four sisters at a beach house on the coast. We get together once a year with no partners, spouses or kids to celebrate my mom who passed away four years ago. I am so grateful for such a beautiful weekend.

What are you grateful for on this Sunday morning?

So we reopened our school this week after a two and a half month break (grateful for that too!) and something very interesting happened in the new beginning class. A student quit after the very first night.

I could see him quitting right before my eyes in the middle of the class.

What happened was this: when I called him up to work for the very first time, he struggled trying to do the first step of the Meisner Technique. It’s a very basic first step but many people struggle. In fact, many people that night struggled, but he didn’t see that. All he saw was that he struggled and the more he struggled the more he struggled.

I addressed it right away but more to the room because he wasn’t the first person that night who beat themselves up for “not getting it right away.”  I taught the importance of being a healthy, kind-hearted “learner” – someone who can celebrate the growing pains of learning something new and actually enjoy the stumbles because they’ll lead to growth.

I quoted Sanford Meisner’s wonderful teaching on this, “Mistakes are good. Mistakes are how we grow. Fall down. Screw up. Todays manure is tomorrow’s masterpiece!”

But I could see when he sat down he was defeated. And we hadn’t even begun to get into the work.

At the end of class I called him over and asked what was going on. He said, “This isn’t for me.”  I asked, “What isn’t for you?”  He then said something very truthful and very sad, “I don’t like making mistakes, especially in front of other people and I can tell I’m going to be making a lot of mistakes.”

I tried to encourage him and give him healthy balance and perspective but again, I could see he was already emotionally out the door. I asked him to think about it and give me a call the next day with his decision.

The next morning he called to say goodbye.

What happened to him/for him is something I’ve seen many times over the years – the curse of perfectionism. The curse of “If I can’t do it well and quickly, no thanks!”

Being a perfectionist has many wonderful attributes, but when trying something new – especially something elusive and ethereal like being an actor (or any art form) – it is a curse.

To be a student of acting in a legitimate acting class requires tremendous humility, vulnerability, freedom and courage.

You must be able to not take the teachings personally.

You must be willing to embrace “screwing up” and not have that define you.

You must be comfortable not being perfect. What kind of “learner” are you?

After a quarter century of teaching, I’ve come to believe that if you’re an artist of any kind, a dreamer of any kind, you must tame the beast of perfectionism. Otherwise, you’ll never enjoy the journey because no true artist is ever truly satisfied. You never conquer your art. You simply continue to grow into yourself and for that you must be wide open and willing to suck.  A lot!

I’d love your feedback so if you haven’t already – please  join our Artistic Family Facebook Group 

Also remember to mark your calendar for Saturday, October 3rd at 10:00am PST for our Webinar Q&A – details soon!

Thanks for taking the time to be with me today and I’ll see you next week.

My very best, Jim

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