Since a lot of PMJ fans happen to be artists / aspiring artists themselves, I wanted to write today’s post just for them. It hasn’t been very long since I was a struggling pianist in New York City, so the difficulties that up and coming artists face are still very fresh in my mind. This isn’t about the usual struggles that most people think of, though. It’s about the internal struggle many of us face called, “Perfectionism.”
Artists have a habit of being their own worst enemies. At some point in the creation process, an artist will naturally ask themselves, “Is it good enough?” This can be a pretty dangerous question. It’s important to value quality of work, but there’s a fine line between quality control and trying to live up to some idealized image of yourself. Over the years, I’ve known some tremendous talents that have missed numerous opportunities due a to fear of doing something that didn’t match the vision of themselves that they had in their head. I’ve felt this fear myself, and I’m extremely thankful that I’ve found a way to force myself to ignore it.
See, making YouTube videos almost didn’t happen for me. Let’s go back to 2009:
^^That was my first viral video. It was a ragtime medley of ’80s songs that I had actually been performing since 2002, but never recorded. I was afraid that if I recorded it, all my technical flaws would be put under a microscope, and I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations that I had created for myself in my head. Sure enough, when I did finally record it – making a whole bunch of mistakes in the process – I was a bit disappointed with the results and afraid to release it. I finally worked up the courage to put it on YouTube, but shared it only with my friends. I even played up the fact that I recorded it spontaneously, so it wouldn’t look like I had actually put any effort into it.
Imagine my surprise when, the next day, it racked up over 10,000 views in a few hours and was featured in viral news blogs all over the internet. Yes, some of the comments were negative, and said all the things I was afraid they would say about my piano technique (and then some). A funny thing happened when I experienced that criticism, though: It didn’t bother me that much.
I realized that I had spent a good seven years in perfectionist limbo – time that could have used to create. I had rationalized that I just wasn’t ready…for seven years. Experiencing the criticism that I so feared firsthand showed me how little it actually mattered. I began to think of each new video as just a snapshot in time, nothing more. I was finally free to create.
Understand one thing: you will never feel “ready.” If you’re a musician and you’ve just written a song that you’re on the fence about, the best time to record it is right now. If you’re a filmmaker and you want to make a movie but don’t have the best equipment, the best time to begin making it is right now. If you’re reading this and have a feeling that this might apply to you, get up and do whatever creative thing you’ve been putting off…you guessed it- right now.
The Beatles wrote hundreds of songs, and most of them weren’t hits. History tends to remember artistic successes, while artistic “failures” are usually forgotten. The upside of creating art completely dwarfs the downside. If that still isn’t convincing enough, keep in mind that most critics just follow the fashions anyway, making “good art” largely subjective. On pretty much every Postmodern Jukebox video, you will find both, “This is the best video you’ve ever done!” and “Meh, not your best work” in the comments. I’m not sure which is true, nor am I really all that interested. I’m already busy working on the next one.
This is not to say to be careless with what you release, or to dissuade you from doing your best work. Having some perfectionist traits are clearly a good thing, because they allow you to identify things that can be improved for the future. If perfectionism is constantly getting in the way of expressing yourself, however, you might have a problem.
If you’re having trouble working up the courage to create something, my best advice is to set a deadline for it, and do so in a way where you have to meet that deadline. I’ve done this quite a bit; it’s not unusual for me to announce the release of an album before it’s ready to go. Releasing things this way helps to motivate me to stay the course, because to delay or cancel a release means that fans will be disappointed. It’s way easier to get over having perfectionist tendencies than it is to get over disappointing your fans.
It takes real courage to be an artist; if it didn’t, everyone would do it. Don’t wait till you’re ready. Don’t wait till you’re older. Be impatient, and it just might work out for you…
…just don’t read the comments.
P.s. A new video will be coming out on this site tomorrow, and don’t worry – it’s actually perfect.