systems of harm

Perfectionism is an asshole.

Perfectionism is an asshole. It gets in the way of almost everything creative I want to do. It turns out it’s deeply rooted in our white supremacist cultural values, and I’m trying desperately to disentangle myself from it. However, awareness is not enough to change my behavior. In case you are WTFing about the white supremacist cultural aspect, here’s a snippet from a document I often reference when discussing antiracism work:


• little appreciation expressed among people for the work that others are doing; appreciation that is expressed usually directed to those who get most of the credit anyway

• more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate

• or even more common, to talk to others about the inadequacies of a person or their work without ever talking directly to them

• mistakes are seen as personal, i.e. they reflect badly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are – mistakes

• making a mistake is confused with being a mistake, doing wrong with being wrong

• little time, energy, or money put into reflection or identifying lessons learned that can improve practice, in other words little or no learning from mistakes

• tendency to identify what’s wrong; little ability to identify, name, and appreciate what’s right

• often internally felt, in other words the perfectionist fails to appreciate her own good work, more often pointing out his faults or ‘failures,’ focusing on inadequacies and mistakes rather than learning from them; the person works with a harsh and constant inner critic

antidotes: develop a culture of appreciation, where the organization takes time to make sure that people’s work and efforts are appreciated; develop a learning organization, where it is expected that everyone will make mistakes and those mistakes offer opportunities for learning; create an environment where people can recognize that mistakes sometimes lead to positive results; separate the person from the mistake; when offering feedback, always speak to the things that went well before offering criticism; ask people to offer specific suggestions for how to do things differently when offering criticism; realize that being your own worst critic does not actually improve the work, often contributes to low morale among the group, and does not help you or the group to realize the benefit of learning from mistakes.

From “White supremacy culture” by Tema Okun . dRworks .

Sound familiar? It certainly hit home for me. I used to paint a picture of my issues with my dad with this real life scenario: “you can go bowling with him, get a strike, and he’ll still tell you what you did wrong.” As a child, I thought this was unique to my dad being a dad who just didn’t get me… but now as a grown person I see that this was just my dad doing what he was conditioned to do by our own cultural norms. Unfortunately, no matter how much I hated it when he did it to me, I still do that to myself on the regular.

None of the art I create is “good enough” for me. I spend hours looking at other people’s work online trying to assure myself that “I can totally do that!” and “see, their work is no better or worse than yours and they make a living doing it!” but when it comes to execution, I am constantly fumbling with perfectionism. I never know when a digital painting is “done enough.” I dream up 800,000 projects but only stick to the 2 I know I can do to my own impossible standards. I’m afraid to share what I am working on and feel awkward about putting stuff on my online portfolio here… even though that’s what I need to do to realize my possible dreams of becoming a sort of freelance artist working for myself and hanging out with my dog all day.

So anyway, I am going to try to be nicer to myself, appreciate my skillset more, and relax on my standards for myself. It’s honestly getting in the way of even PRACTICING my art skills, because I can’t handle the period of growth and just want to do it exactly how I see it in my head and CAN’T just yet because drawing on the iPad is still new to me after 9 months and designing unique vinyl decals that don’t infringe on copyrights takes more work than I want.