Perfection, Productivity and Performance

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Perfection

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“The world doesn’t reward perfection. It rewards productivity.” – Peter Bregman, author of  18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

I imagine something like this has happened to you, as it has to me: You have heard a great concert, a performance that moved you and inspired you. You rush to greet the players afterward to thank and congratulate them. But instead of hearing the compliment, they meet your enthusiasm with regrets about the things that went wrong. Whose idea of “perfect” matters here?

And what if the performer’s desire to present as “perfect” a performance as possible had prevented him from playing at all? It doesn’t matter how good you sound in the practice room, if that’s where you stay. The person in the room next door may not play as well, but if she is out there playing for others, she will hear the audience cheering, “Bravo!” There’s no bravo in the practice room.

Picture a student recital. Little children zoom fearlessly through their prepared pieces. Mistakes don’t bother them. They are playing for people who will clap and cheer for them, and they are happy. Older students and adults, whether beginners or advanced students, often have to steel their nerves before playing. Mistakes matter to them. They want to do well. I remember one piano recital at which my mother, when her turn came, had to tell the teacher that she couldn’t play. She wasn’t unprepared, just nervous.

I don’t know that my mother was a perfectionist. But I know that in some areas important to me, I am. And I fight it every day.

Want to know if perfectionism may be holding you back? Do either or both of these statements sound familiar?

1. I’m not ready to do that yet. (My technique needs to be better, or I have to study longer, etc., before I’m ready.)
2. I don’t think it’s good enough yet. (I learned it, or recorded it, or played it, but it’s not good enough for the general public.)

The perfectionist is stuck at “someday.” Someday he will be ready, someday she will finish it, someday it will be good enough.The perfectionist never gets it done.

Here are three tips I use to keep me moving from “Someday” to “Done!”

1. Failure is always an option. Start with that understanding. If we don’t try, we won’t fail. But anything worth trying is worth failing at.
2. You don’t have to put your best foot forward. Any old foot will do. As in so many things, one step at a time is the way to accomplish something. If all your steps are small, but frequent and in one direction, you will get off the starting block and begin the journey to “Done!”
3. Listen to the opinions of people you trust. Your teacher’s idea of when you are performance-ready is one you can trust. You probably have close friends who are musicians who can give honest critique of your efforts. The people closest to you want to see you succeed. And their perspective is probably more balanced than yours.

Let’s not forget the biggest price we pay for perfectionism. It’s not just being unhappy with our performance, or taking too long to prepare a piece. What we lose is the fun, the pleasure, the reason we started playing music in the first place. Music exists beyond ourselves. It is inspiring in spite of our mistakes. It is communication between souls. But only when we get out there and do it.

Are you are perfectionist? If so, does it help you or hurt you?

Some resources you might enjoy:

Here’s a quiz to take to see if you are a perfectionist.

Beating Perfectionism, Procrastination and Paralysis, by life coach Mark Strong

The Inner Game of Music, by Barry Green and Timothy Gallwey

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