Fixed, but I need Growing | On Me, Myself and Perfection

I haven’t been posting a lot. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I haven’t been writing or drawing – but I haven’t. Been writing or drawing that is.

That much. IMG_20160522_211403_resized_20160530_020600272

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve filled a couple (small) sketchbooks this summer, and I’ve written a poem here, jotted down another dozen ideas for the great-big-novel-to-be in the sky there… But none of it has quite felt like it once did. I used to write pages and pages a day. Was under ten thousand words from 2011’s NaNoWriMo (and never quite recovered). Words tumbled from my head non-stop. If I wasn’t writing, I’d be playing the guitar or ukulele. If not that, I’d draw every single day, doodles at least, and I produced something I was proud of 50% of the time.  But… All of that seems to have changed.

As I’ve been very down lately, and therefore in a constant battle with motivation, I’ve been trying to work on myself, my work, my goals and my self-confidence. Through various methods. Reach a healthy self-awareness in short. One of these methods has been to soak in the glorious knowledge provided by The School of Life channel on YouTube. It is one of their videos, addressed by a certain Carol Dweck, that I’ll be discussing further.

On Perfection

Carol Dweck on Being Perfect
Click to watch

I don’t think I have ever thought myself a perfectionist. Highly driven, perhaps. Keen to achieve. But to be a perfectionist, I always thought someone had to be close to that state. Able to reach it. I thought that, therefore, impossible of myself. Oddly, I identified with Dweck when she described being a ‘perfect child’.
In my childhood, I was very much a Good Girl. Good grades, good reports, good faith; all-round. Failure was never acceptable, and at a certain point in my mind was impossible- I’d decided at a point that I was going to succeed (in being published at the age of sixteen at the time, plus a plethora of other things), and that was that. High achievement equated to “respect from others as well as high self regard”. Lack of that … Well, you get the idea.

Of course, despite the fact that I did achieve many great things, certain goals of mine were not reached and my reaction to this, I’ve realised, has altered a lot of the way I set goals and targets now, and react to tasks in general. I set such high targets for myself that, when I could not achieve them, for what ever reason, my reaction was that I was a failure in that area. In the artistic respect, my ‘talent’ was disappearing and I was losing my creativity.

When Dweck discusses Perfectionism, she focuses on two different mindsets; that of the Fixed, and that of Growth. In a study by Pam Scott, the subject was asked whether they identified as a perfectionist. I resonated with one of the ways a ‘fixed’ surveyor answered;

Having built a magnificent dam … of perfection … I am perpetually plugging all the holes. It’s tiring. … It’s about fear of chaos. An anxiety that what is is not good enough. That am not good enough.

I’ve tried to offer my best in all I do and have done, and give the best of myself to my ability, but this has meant that I feel anxiety in replicating the standard. If I fall shy, I feel failure. If I fail, I’m not good enough.

“If I don’t do well all the time, people won’t respect me.”

It’s a crushing and impossible weight to put upon anyone. And, the ridiculous part is, I wouldn’t expect that of anyone else. If someone makes a mistake, my immediate thought is not to condemn them, nor to think any less of them as a person or even of what they are capable of. So why do I place these opinions upon myself?

Dweck confirms that, after another survey was taken, the main goal for those with a Fixed mindset was, among being accomplished at all times, never feeling dumb or inadequate. Ironically, a result of setting myself impossibly high standards is feeling just that.
On the other hand, the main goal for those with a Growth mindset is learning. The pleasure of the challenge.

Now, I love a good challenge too, and I’ve always loved to learn, but the more I thought about it during Dweck’s talk, the more I realised as much as I loved to learn, anything that seemed to me too difficult or ‘not my thing’ (yes, that means you Physics GCSE), I switched off quite quickly. The only times I enjoyed Maths was when I understood it. (Exactly two points in the history of ever.) If I detected something might, therefore, make me seem stupid or dumb, I labelled it immediately as impossible and clung to something I knew. English. History. Art. In school. And while I did love to compete and didn’t protect myself from failure as Dweck did in that sense, when I didn’t succeed I began to think less of myself. My high hopes still existed; I just didn’t place.

To link this back to the production of my work, I’ve realised I’m stifling myself. I stopped doodling so much because each doodle was flawed. Being in Art University, surrounded by endlessly talented individuals who could doodle a stick with the skill of a veteran did wear at me without my even knowing it. Worrying whether my illustration style is ‘cute’ or ‘commercial’ enough for me to be successful in the long run. Angsting about whether I should be trying to sell now (and then doing just so and not quite managing that endeavour) and freaking about all the other illustrators who will be graduating this year, my year and the next and the competition that will rise and what the hell am I going to do?


A doodle done immediately after watching Dweck’s talk.

Each doodle was flawed. But I started doodling in the first place because I enjoyed it. I started writing because I  enjoyed it. I’m studying Illustration because I love the rock out of it. And I don’t want to abandon my goals either. I’m going to eventually finish my five-year-old 75k word novel, start the ever-growing graphic novel in my head, self-publish a book of poetry and write a children’s book. And I’m going to applaud each little step I take up till then, and each mistake. Nothing’s going to stop me. Not even the anxious little voices in my head. (Plz, G.)

Blindboy says, in a hugely enlightening talk on Mental Health, that procrastination occurs almost exclusively with the things you love and want to do. It is a fear of failure. As Queen of Good Intentions with a side of Master Procrastinator, I can confirm this. But I’m working on it. Slowly.

[Any help or tips will be greatly appreciated!]
Yours truly;

300 Failures


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