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Perfectionism Is a Trap

POSTED ON January 07, 2017   |   2 Comments

The trap of perfectionism keeps us from making the impact we seek.

Endless polishing and tinkering is one way we hide from emotional risk. We may tell ourselves that if our work is perfect, it will be immune from criticism. I know a jazz musician who has been working on his first album for over ten years because he wants it to be perfect. Insulating ourselves from risk feels safe in the moment, but it keeps our original contributions bottled up inside.

I certainly get stuck in this trap. I’m usually able to let mistakes go on stage, but the scrutiny of mixing a record triggers my perfectionism impulse. After fixing an egregious mistake with studio magic, I start hearing smaller imperfections and could continue polishing and hiding forever.

We can have high standards, but perfect is off the table. The artists we most admire aren’t perfect, yet they continue to perform, record, and amass a body of work.

An obsession with perfect also puts us into a defensive performance mindsetwe try to avoid errors rather than play courageously on stage.

In his three-minute TED Talk, bestselling author Seth Godin tells us, “We need to care enough to connect, care enough to put ourselves at risk emotionally in order to touch other people. . .But we have to be brave enough to ship it before it’s ready, because it’s never ready.”

The only way to touch another person with your music is to share it. The sharing may be an album, concert, YouTube video, or informal performance for friends and family. Shipping a project is your invitation to begin a new one.

Seth Godin also challenges us to play a single note that other people actually want to hear:

Keep going.

– ST

Reserve a free digital copy of my forthcoming book Creativity Triggers for Musicians.


  • Joshua Jacobson

    Wow, thanks Steve. I needed this one for sure. Probably my biggest issue, always feeling like I’m “not ready yet”

    • This is a common feeling. It turns out that performing and sharing is how we get ready!
      This transfers to many other areas in our lives. I certainly didn’t “feel ready” to be a father, but I decided to jump in and figure it out along the way.
      – ST

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