The Challenge of Perfectionism: the Quest for My Creative Self

Recently, I made the bold move to delete my major social media accounts: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To be honest, this entire blog post was going to be the slow build up of reasons of why I deleted my social media. What I found since I started writing this post (over a month ago?), is that social media isn’t the cause of my distress—it is merely an irritant. So rather, this blog post is about how opinions in general affect me too much, and my struggle with perfectionism.

I wish I found some chords
In an order that is new
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme
Every time I sang
I was told when I get older
All my fears would shrink
But now I’m insecure
And I care what people think

–Twenty-One Pilots

It was all in front of me, then it hit me suddenly
That my coffee lost kick, my coffee lost kick
Being everybody’s cup of tea
It was all in front of me, then it hit me suddenly
That my coffee lost kick, my coffee loves kick
Being everybody’s cup of tea

–Judah and the Lion



My Previous Creative Self

Lately I have been reminiscing about my teenage years (possibly we’re all guilty of that). While I recall the good times and the bad, one aspect presents it itself regularly: my teenage creativity. At the time, the walls of my small room were covered with cut-out calendar pictures and home-made maps of imaginary continents. My bookshelf didn’t have the typical teenage fare: along with copies (and related books) of the Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia, I also had copies of The Arabian Nights, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Oriental Armour, An Encyclopedia of Fairies, and more—most of them read. I also had a collection of cheap wire-bound notebooks, ranging in topics from stories, constructed languages, character sheets, histories and general world-building. I also had random, simple drawings of fantasy creatures—mostly dragons, mainly oriental ones.

Each school night when homework was done, I propped myself against my pillow, placed earphones on my head, turned on the portable CD player and began the night’s writing session. There I hand-wrote the actions of my characters with a pen, and I was convinced that the creative session was a joint-effort between me and God. I was confident that someday, God-willing, my creativity would produce a best-seller.

…And Today

…And flash forward to the 2010’s: my creativity felt stifled. I did a few things—somehow, I had the fortitude of write and draw Concerning Rosamond Grey—but compared to my high school years, my creativity was dampened. I no longer drew fantasy creatures for fun, I struggled to conceive a single constructed word for my language, and I was always doubting myself. Writing the script for the above mentioned comic, I scrutinized the story like no other: “this feels so contrived, no reasonable person would like this”.

I finished drawing Concerning Rosamond Grey, and I suffer some sort of a mental block: perhaps because of a few people’s expectations, but mostly my own expectations inhibit my free creativity. The thoughts, “I have to make the sequel better in every manner,” “my art is subpar—I need good art to be noticed,” “I need a full history, complete world-building, and constructed language– I have so much I need to do to create the best work”. I would read through the forums on DeviantArt and glean what the general consensus was about making a great story. I would scroll through Facebook and Instagram and note the successful influencers, and especially noted the vast gap in popularity and productivity. I researched how to be a successful influencer, and how producing picture-perfect art—and lots of it—was the key to success. Yet as I scrolled through these posts, I could only doubt myself, and rather than producing vast amounts of art, my art desk served as a catch-all of miscellany.

I had started and restarted a few constructed languages, but most of the time the notebooks sat neglected. Looking for inspiration, I would venture to the Facebook group, where people were displaying their detailed grammars, their constructed scripts, and their vast vocabularies, and discussing obscure grammar topics like ergativity and languages of the Philippines and the Caucasus. Rather than inspired, I always thought “I don’t know enough…I need to research more languages—my current projects aren’t good enough.” So I spent hours on linguistics websites and researching a plethora of languages, to find that one feature that can bring my constructed language success. Still, my notebooks sat neglected.

…What happened?

What happened, between my teenage years and the present? Why can’t I just pick up a pencil and draw something for fun? Why do I always judge my constructed languages as “not good enough”? Why do I always feel the pressure to produce a masterpiece, and in reality, my workspace gathers clutter? Why do I always doubt myself, and browsing the Internet feels more comfortable than doing creative pursuit?

Deleting Social Media

The correlation I found was that I was most creative before the days of extensive social media—I had Myspace at the time, but that did not affect my lifestyle much. So I concluded that social media was the culprit: if I wanted my creativity to return, I had to find some balance with my time on and off the social Internet.

…Admittedly, balancing is harder than it looks. Cal Newport offers the compromise: “use it only when it has a direct benefit to you—otherwise, stay off”. If it is the only method by which you communicate with a person, then use it; if you use to “keep tabs” on people you haven’t spoken to in person in a decade, maybe you should spend less time on it. I tried to keep this balanced mindset, with varying levels of success. I justified my presence on Facebook and Instagram because I was a creator, a budding influencer who would contribute positive things to the Internet community. I was going to make a difference…And I could only make a difference if I posted lots of good art, and be an active participant on these platforms.

And yet, my workspace continued to gather dust.

It took me a while to realize that, perhaps, social media was more bad than good. But nothing in this world is perfect, right? Like the monkey’s paw, every benefit has a drawback? I had to charge through the mess and produce some good in the world! I could make some positive change…Right?

But the ugliness of my Facebook feed made me more and more reluctant to login into the site. The anger I felt from peoples’ posts transferred to me in my real life. I was really wondering if social media was worth it. After announcing a year and a half previously that I would delete my account, I seriously considered making the final choice.

I borrowed the lesser-known book “Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection” by Jacob Silverman. I read through the first few chapters, most of it stuff I already knew: how everyone, including the giants in the Silver Valley, believe that social media is a benefit, not a detraction, for mankind; that after the years of idea monopoly by media giants, normal people could post entertainment, and actually be seen; and that social media connects people from all over the world.

The sentence that shook me—and for the life of me, I can’t find the exact quote again, try as I might—the concept was this: “social media is excellent at making the normal user believe they are making more of an impact than they really are—the platform gives false impressions of importance”.

I gave up.

If my entire goal of being on social media was to (positively) impact the wider Net , to make an impact, to be seen—and these very platforms were, in reality, only giving me false hope, only being algorithmic addictions feeding my self-esteem—then perhaps they weren’t helpful after all. Perhaps social media isn’t really about changing the net, rather the users are only mice trapped in a maze with a promise of cheese.

In the winter of 2020-2021 I deleted my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

The Real Culprit

I noticed a difference after deleting my social media: I was less angry at the world, and my habit of comparing myself to others decreased. I began to actually like myself. I feel liberated. Part of the act was that of faith, as well: I have to believe that if God wants my art seen, He can do it without the toxic online community.

Still, I wonder why my desk continues to collect dust.

I deleted my social media, and I do feel better about life in general—but why can’t I create like I did as a teenager? I still feel this stone wall before me, blocking my carefree self from the current one. Still I have mental lists of things I want to do, that I need to do, in order make my comics and my art worthy: after all, the best way to be seen is to make something worthy to be shown. I remember seeing art on social media and DeviantArt, and I have high and lofty goals of where I want my art skills to be. Surely I must practice and achieve these goals before I dare to show my next project—my art must be perfect.

In previous times, I made the joke “hello, I’m Hestia, and I’m a perfectionist,” and people would laugh, as I planned. Of all things I could suffer from, perfectionism isn’t that big of a deal. It’s good to have high standards for myself, right? I could make a sloppy job—but I won’t, because I take pride in producing excellent work. If it’s somewhat good, I bet the next time I remake it will be better. And better, and better—shoot, I’ll remake it as many times as I need to make a perfect piece.

And yet I wonder why I’m hesitant to start…Anything.

According to June Hunt’s “Perfectionism: the Performance Trap”, there’s more to a perfectionist than producing excellent work:

1. Maintain an all-or-nothing attitude towards life—it’s either perfect, or it’s not worth doing.

2. Set super high self-imposed goals to achieve.

3. Become obsessed with how others think of you.

4. Get upset by the smallest mistakes.

5. Compare your weaker skills to the finest skills of others.

6. Agonize over weaker skills.

7. Think nothing you have accomplished is good enough.

8. Procrastinate, because your project might not result perfectly.

I read through this book, and I’m starting to grasp that perfectionism doesn’t necessarily mean excellence…But boy, it’s hard for me to grasp. In my mind, for years, perfect equates excellence—doing my best means doing it over and over until it’s the absolute best I can produce. I admit it’s hard to find perfectionism a fault.

And yet, this is the factor that’s different between my teenage creative self and my current self—my previous self could lie on the floor and sketch pictures of dragons, and my current self has to build up the gumption to sit at my cluttered desk. To return to my free-flowing creativity, perhaps perfectionism isn’t a goal, but a dam that prevents all but a little to flow out.

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