Dichotomies (4 of 6)

Last week I introduced the idea of a vertical spectrum. If you did not read last week’s newsletter please read it here before reading this week’s edition.

If you’ve been a reader of my newsletter for any amount of time, you’ll know that I write these articles for myself first. They’re always things that I need to hear, based on my own insecurities or challenges. Well, in today’s article I am not talking to myself; I am talking directly to my husband, Lanny. So, here you go babes! Dichotomy 4 of 6 is a big one: Perfection vs. Betterment

Perfectionism is the bane of my existence when it comes to photography. And, this has nothing to do with me being a perfectionist. It has everything to do with my shooting/life/love partner being the biggest perfectionist I have ever met (and yes, I’ve met A LOT of people!). Trying to work with a perfectionist comes with many challenges. I reckon it’s almost as difficult as being an actual perfectionist.

Society has trained us to believe perfectionism is a good trait to have. Like when you get that dreaded question in a job interview (one of the main reasons why I am self-employed), “What is your biggest weakness?” People answer “perfectionism” because they know it is a valued trait that can be flipped in the context of workaholism or so-called dedication to one’s job/company/vocation. Society idolizes perfection. Recently, even our vulnerability has to be perfect.

Striving for perfection is paralyzing. It’s paralyzing because it’s actually impossible. Perfection is the reason we don’t start or finish things. Perfectionism is the reason we don’t complete a 30-day workout challenge or a daily journaling goal. As soon as we miss a day (which is inevitable), we give up, because we didn’t do it perfectly. Perfections often prevent us from starting in the first place, because we demand an idea to be perfect before we attempt to try it.

Perfection is a result of a focused mindset. A process-focused mindset will get us a lot further and into territory that knows no bounds.

Where perfection pushes you down, betterment will pull you up. Say the following two statements out loud to yourself. How do they make you feel?

“How can I make this perfect?” — FML. I give up.
“How can I make this better?” — Phew. I can do that.

Perfection comes with a box; you gotta make it fit.
Betterment has no box; it’s boundless.

One of my favourite books, Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland, tells a great story about a ceramics professor.

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: On the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A,” 40 pounds a “B,” and so on. Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A.”

Well, at grading time a curious fact emerged: The works of highest “quality” were all produced by the group being graded for “quantity.” It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

So what’s the antidote? How can we be pulled by betterment vs pushed by perfection?

Start before you’re ready. Take that hunk of clay and start molding, without a firm plan. Take that camera and start shooting. Allow your photos to be mediocre. And then take those mediocre photos and problem solve how to make them better.

Don’t wait for it to be perfect. Show up with humility. Hell, don’t even wait for it to be somewhat good. Don’t have an idea for a good photo? Make a bad photo. Then try and make it better, not perfect.

Next up… I haven’t decided yet!

Love, Erika

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