I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, “Big Magic.” To say it’s a wonderful, inspiring book is an understatement. There are some books that hit you to the core and this is one of them. I’m reading it through the eyes of being a yoga teacher and every page has a theme that I can relate to teaching. The book itself refers to the “Big Magic” of being creative and teaching yoga is most certainly a creative endeavor.
One of the thoughts that Elizabeth Gilbert brings up in the book is the idea of perfectionism and how it can hold us back from being creative. I titled this blog post, Is Perfectionism Holding You Back from Living the Life You Want” because I wanted to broaden the concept beyond being creative to just “living.” Let’s face it, whether we’re teaching yoga, traveling with a band, teaching kids, working in an office or raising a family, on some level it all requires creativity and it most certainly all qualifies as living. And, when we’re living life through the eyes of a perfectionist, it can be really hard to get things done.
“We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death.” Ms. Gilbert writes this in her book and it’s so true! When we live our life in search of the perfect, we’re left with nothing but exhaustion and frustration. She goes onto say, “ The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: ” So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible and the fun.” I have seen this in the context of teaching yoga when a new teacher wants to begin teaching but is so hung up on doing in perfectly, it lacks any sense of fun. And who wants to go to that yoga class? And who wants to TEACH that class? No one.
“Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes- but even worse, it stops people from beginning their work. Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.” Stop for a moment and ask yourself: What are you not doing right now in your life that you would do, if it weren’t for your fear of it not turning out perfectly? Yes, fear. That’s often at the heart of what stops us from living the life we want. It’s not money, or lack of time or too much or too little education, or how old we are, or how young or where we live or don’t live. It’s fear.
Ms. Gilbert writes: “I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified.” Boy does that hit me where I live. First of all, I love fashion. I’m obsessed with fashion magazines, fashion week, following the stars and star designers. I love nothing more than roaming the high end malls, seeing in person all the amazing dresses, shoes and bags I’ve seen grace the pages of Elle, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. But to think of my perfectionism as just “fear in fancy clothing?” Until she put it like that, I was holding it out as a virtue.
Which, she goes onto say, is the trick perfectionism can play on you. It makes you feel like a martyr when in reality, you’re just afraid. And, let me say this, there is nothing wrong with being afraid. Fear often comes from deep places. Many times, it’s unconscious, in that we don’t even realize what’s holding us back. It can be connected to events in our life, interactions we had as children, things we we told by someone we admired that hit us in a hurtful way. Fear is real and it’s a hard beast to conquer. But conquer it we must if we want to live in an open and authentic way.
Let me also say that I hesitated a bit when writing the title of this post because I do think it’s a bit broad. “Living the Life You Want” is a pretty big question and sometimes, when questions are that big, it just detracts people from asking them in the first place. So, try this. Sit quietly for a few minutes. Close your eyes. Hear your breath. Become very still. Then, ask yourself: “If I had all the time and money in the world, what would I be doing?” Then listen. See what comes up. Listen for your inner sense of knowing, your intuition, to poke it’s head out and send you a message. If nothing happens, don’t worry. Try again later (sometimes the spirits are sleeping). Ask it until something comes to you.
Then, as Ms. Gilbert writes about in her book, through many of the chapters, find a way to feed it. Find the time to do it. Make the time to start investing your energies into this thing, whatever it is. Don’t worry about how perfect it is, don’t worry about the outcome, don’t wait to start it until you get more training, do more work or build a website. In the words of the Nike, “just do it.”