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Perfectionism

by Douglas Eby

"I'm a maniacal perfectionist.
And if I weren't, I wouldn't have this company.
It's the best rap!"
 

That quote by Martha Stewart was in response to an interviewer asking, "Are you a perfectionist, or is that just the perception the world has of you?" Stewart goes on to say, "Nobody's going to fault me for that. I have proven that being a perfectionist can be profitable and admirable when creating content across the board: in television, books, newspapers, radio, videos. .. All that content is impeccable."

In working with Nicole Kidman on their film "Portrait of a Lady," director Jane Campion was quoted: "She can be quite murderously challenging in her perfectionism. Take Twenty: 'Are you sure that's good enough?' [she says]. We're going, wearily 'Yeah.'" 

Filmmaking and other arts often demand an obsessive attention to detail, and even rely on a certain level or quality of perfectionism in the pursuit of excellence, but perfectionism can also be limiting and destructive.

Michelle Pfeiffer was quoted in an interview: "Being obsessive might be my strength and my weakness, actually, as with everyone. I'm a perfectionist, so I can drive myself mad -- and other people, too. At the same time, I think that's one of the reasons I'm successful. Because I really care about what I do. I really want it to be right, and I don't quit until I have to." 

Another director and actress renowned (and often condemned) for her perfectionism, Barbra Streisand, has commented about the need to temper this drive: "We have to accept imperfections in ourselves, in others, in life. And it's part of the beauty of the experience in life. Nothing can be perfect. Also, perfection is cold. Imperfection has humanity in it. Why I love making movies is I'm thrown into nature, into life, into the spontaneity of the moment." 

Following that kind of freedom of thought and action can lead to creative insights, but it may be inhibited by an exaggerated concern for doing something "right." 

In her new book "Never Good Enough.." Monica Basco, Ph.D., writes that perfectionists "can have great difficulty in taking risks, particularly if their personal reputations are on the line... If you rely on creative whims rather than facts, you might fail. At least, that is the fear more conservative perfectionists have." 

This fear may also show up for many talented and creative people as a sense of being inadequate or a fraud -- feelings which can very effectively dampen our creativity. Many women may be especially vulnerable to what has been defined as the Impostor Syndrome. 

Lee Anne Bell, Ed.D., describes this attitude as affecting many high-achieving women, and shows up as the "doubting and discrediting of one's abilities and achievements." 

She says women are more likely than men to feel like impostors, and "tend to define competence as perfection and are often guided by standards that are unnecessarily high." 

Monica Basco included in a recent Psychology Today article about her book some questions that can help identify yourself as perfectionistic, such as: "If I make a mistake, it will be horrible"; "I must be perfect or others will disapprove of me" and "If I do it perfectly, then everyone will notice." 

One of the tricky aspects of these kinds of thoughts or schemas is that there can be so much validity to them, at least in some situations, at some level. If you do create something "perfect" people really are likely to notice and acclaim it. 

And some creative work, like novels, have taken years and exquisite attention to detail. 

But there can be a real freeing-up of creativity if you can be more aware of the restrictions of perfectionistic thinking, and let go of it when it is restricting. 

Faye Dunaway has commented about her own changes in this area: "Being controlling is the hardest thing to change. Not in terms of manipulating other people, just in terms of wanting everything to be as good as it can be. Now if something's not going in the direction I think it should, I try to sit back and enjoy the ride." 

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Martha Stewart quotes from O Magazine interview, Sept. 2000

related page:  perfectionism

books:

Monica Basco Never Good Enough : How to Use Perfectionism to Your Advantage Without Ruining Your Life  -- [from Oprah.com:] "A practical, scientifically proven step-by-step program for overcoming unreasonably high expectations that can often be the hidden cause of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, stifled creativity, and broken relationships."

Cynthia Curnan The Care and Feeding of Perfectionists 
reader: actress/director Linda Gray, in LA Times: "...offers readers the tools to balance themselves on the seesaw of life. She shows how to look at extremes and blend them, through inner guidance, into the most delicious swirl ice cream." 

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  related Talent Development Resources pages :

GT Adults blog gifted/talented/high ability

giftedness : articles

giftedness : books

intensity / sensitivity

intensity / sensitivity resources : articles sites books

introversion / shyness.

introversion resources : articles  sites  books

perfectionism

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