Overcoming Perfectionism: What it Really Took for Me to Complete Waterfall

In my debut piano CD Waterfall: Original Piano Music, I wrote the following dedication on the back cover:

This album is dedicated to all creative people. May you find your own waterfall of creativity.

I am reminded now of the enormous personal journey I underwent just to get to the point where I could even write those simple words on the back of that CD. This album, though a relatively short collection of six pieces, represented a major breakthrough in overcoming one particular hurdle that afflicted me for years, a hurdle which stops many a would-be artist and often separates the successful, productive artist from someone living in obscurity. That hurdle is perfectionism.

The ability to finish what you start is essential if you are to succeed in any endeavor! Yet sometimes our ideals of how things are supposed to be, plus our fear of criticism should our work not live up to those ideals, or should someone else think so, can literally prevent us from ever finishing anything. I personally have experienced this problem myself, namely the crippling effect of thinking I needed to do things perfectly if I was going to do anything at all.

At times in the past, I have been so frozen by the fear of criticism that I have literally been unable to finish what I started. This was a problem back when I was in college, when I used to obsess over my writing assignments and, ultimately, never was quite satisfied with my work despite literally hundreds, even possibly thousands of hours of working on the craft of writing. In going through this often torturous experience, I ultimately realized that this way of doing things just was not working out very well for me (go figure!). I am now learning to embrace a mantra I heard recently:  “Sloppy success is better than perfect mediocrity.” I have had to realize that my own creative expression is more important than protecting myself from possible criticism. And I have had to learn to persevere anyway, despite the risks of not being perfect. As a result, nowadays I continually make progress, and I am able to be bigger than my own perfectionism. Yet I still see it, right there, always in the background, and I admit, I still struggle with it at times.

That is why it was so personally gratifying to complete Waterfall. In this process, I truly allowed my ‘waterfall of creativity’ to be expressed to the world. If I had not, it would almost be as if I had not had the creative inspiration at all. Because what good are creative gifts if they merely stay in my own head, never to find an audience and impact others?

I believe that in order to make full use of creativity, one must take every step of the journey, and go to and through the finish line. In the case of Waterfall, that meant finishing each of the six pieces that you hear on the album, recording them, and then getting the CDs manufactured. And that was what it took simply to have a product! After that comes promotion and marketing, sales, performing and all the rest. Making a CD, like anything else, takes completing many many different steps, and each one is necessary in order to be effective.

And in order to take those steps, one must allow oneself to risk not doing it all perfectly. I am still very much working on this myself: everyday I am taking action to beat the demon of perfectionism by focusing on the satisfaction and promise of creative expression and completing my musical projects.

And it makes me admire people who follow through on their biggest dreams, those who can transcend the need to be perfect in order to allow the need to express themselves. The ability to follow through on what is important to you is a defining quality, I think, not only in a great creative artist, but also in a true leader.

I hope that you too can find the ability to follow through on your dreams, no matter what obstacles, whether internal or external, come your way. And in the process, you just may find your own waterfall of creativity.