For years, I believed I was inherently lazy. Turns out, I’m actually a perfectionist.
Like most of us well past our elementary-school days, I’ve got a hazy remembrance of the day-to-day of being a child. There are general fuzzy feelings when certain seasons arrive, or an ingrained impulse to raise my hand politely in meetings of over five people. But some of the strongest memories of my elementary scholastic career are associated with panic, shame, and the certainty that I’d never measure up.
If you had asked many of my teachers their opinion of me, across the board, I’m sure their answer would have been the same— “Rin is creative and delightful to have in class, but lacks focus.” “Needs to her get homework in on time!”
It was true. The minute I learned to read, I’d sneak books under my desk, preferring to dive deep into fantasy worlds than face a science lesson I knew I wasn’t smart enough to understand. (Proved by my lack-luster test results). Math was elusive, making sense only when my teacher-mother found a fellow tutor who taught in a way that used stories, rather than just the rules themselves. (I still cried weekly over algebra).
I learned to procrastinate. I did all right in school (owing to a large amount of privilege and dedicated parents), but couldn’t shake the feeling that no matter what I did, my ability to procrastinate meant I was simply lazy.
But I didn’t know how to change my habits, or even why I should, until college. My piano teacher, fed up with my fifth attempt to start a difficult line, finally exclaimed, “Stop being a perfectionist!”
I was confused. Perfectionist equaled perfection, and I was far from that. Actually, I was far from being right.
My teacher briefly explained that perfectionism really meant I held myself to super high, almost unachievable standards. By holding myself to such high standards, I wasn’t giving myself room to fail. To grow, I had to be willing to fail.
But my procrastination showed that I was too afraid to do so.
I think about that lesson gratefully, and often, as I navigate creative adulthood. All people, but especially artists and entrepreneurs, HAVE to be willing to fail. We have to be willing to push past the fear of “not-enoughness” to get out that first attempt at the scene, draft, or client pitches. It can feel painful and nerve-wracking, but it has to be done.
Look, I still procrastinate. I’m still not great at math (if you give me a penny HOW much change do you get, now?), and there are days where I truly am lazy (we all need them).
But here’s what I tell myself when fear and doubt creep in as I start a new project: it doesn’t have to be good, but it does need to be told.