Karen Meador, Ph.D
Do you ever think about the definite differences in between you or your jewelry making peers? Perhaps you see a difference in the quality of the pieces we produce. One person may painstakingly rework a piece to hide an errant wire end while another uses that end as part of the design. While some of your peers eagerly bring work samples to workshops and meetups, others never seem to have anything to show and have limited production. There are certainly many factors that contribute to both the production of pieces and whether or not we want to share them with our peers. Perhaps I have a full time job that takes me away from jewelry making and my weekends are tied up with kid’s games or family obligations. I just can’t get much jewelry made. It could be that my health precludes me from spending the amount of time others can on their art. It’s possible that my skills aren’t quite where I want them to be in order to produce work I want to share with others. While all these factors weigh upon the jewelry artist, let’s consider whether it could be perfectionism that affects some of our friends.
Wikipedia allows that “perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that perfection can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable. At such levels, this is considered an unhealthy belief, and psychologists typically refer to such individuals as maladaptive perfectionists.” While Hanacheck states that there are two types of perfectionism, normal and neurotic, Burns relays that there are "people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment".
The information in the above paragraph certainly puts a serious spin on consideration on the aforementioned differences in jewelry artists. Perfectionism can and does have a profound effect on some jewelry artists. Let’s be clear. We are not simply discussing the desire to do fine work and achieve a high standard of excellence in that work. We are discussing perfectionism that can block our ability to produce at all.
Dr. Monica Frank (http://www.excelatlife.com/articles/excellence.htm ) describes perfectionism as “the individual's belief that he or she must be perfect to be acceptable. Perfectionism is black and white with no gray area. Anything other than perfect is failure.. . .”
Consider the confession written by a guest editor on the following link as an example of Dr. Frank’s words: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/overcoming-perfectionism-the-joy-of-just-ok
“I am not good enough. The jewelry I love to make has a weird knot midway and instead of loving its imperfection, I toss it aside as not good enough and quit making jewelry. I am not enough. I think the reason I cannot just enjoy these simple activities is that in some recess of my mind, I have chosen to use each of these as a defining point of who I am.”
Dr. Frank contrasts this with excellence “the desire to attain a goal of excellence, to achieve at a high level, to be the best that one can be but without the demand attached to the goal or desire. Pursuing excellence may require tremendous effort and focus as well as other resources. But, unlike perfectionism, it does not demand a sacrifice of self-esteem as it tends to focus on the process of achievement rather than the outcome.” Dr. Frank continues her discussion of the topic through ten points wherein she contrasts excellence vs. perfectionism. I’ve taken the liberty of putting these in tabular form.
|Valuing Self||Vs.||Valuing Achievement|
|Achievable Goals||Vs.||Unreasonable Demands|
|Assessing Mistakes||Vs.||Critizing Failure|
|Internal Satisfaction||Vs.||External Recognition|
|Risking Failure||Vs.||Avoiding Failure|
I could continue to quote the experts on this topic, but I believe the frankness of the information provided is sufficient. Obviously, in my opinion, perfectionism is unhealthy. If I strive to be perfect, I’ll never get where I’m going. Yet, if I strive for excellence and work to improve, I have hope. If I focus on the above table, I want to strive for achievable goals, be patient with my endeavors and enjoy the process of making jewelry. If I tried to avoid failure, I probably wouldn’t ever attempt any new designs or techniques. That would be sad!
I’ve worked with many highly gifted children and young artists who couldn’t start their project or begin writing their paper because they knew it wouldn’t live up to their personal standards. Some would wait until the last minute before a paper was due and then hurry the process to meet the deadline. Then they had an excuse for failure. Others, even as late as graduate school, wouldn’t turn in a paper on the deadline because “it wasn’t right yet.” The basic attitude was “if I don’t try, I can’t fail.”
Let’s hope it isn’t quite this bad for most of us as jewelry artists. Yet, I wanted to see if I had this malady and found the following link http://stress.about.com/od/understandingstress/a/perfectionist.htm that suggests traits of perfectionists provided by Elizabeth Scott:
All or Nothing Thinking
“Push” vs. “Pull”
Focus on Results
Depressed by Unmet Goals
Fear of Failure
Low Self Esteem
While this could be a place for “true confessions”, I won’t tell you which of the above describes me and I won’t ask about your discoveries either.
Let me assure you that I believe “perfecting” my jewelry making ability is vital to the quality of the product. I think I should rework a piece that doesn’t meet my standards due to personal pride and the fact that I don’t want anything out in the world that doesn’t represent those standards. However, I hope that my standards are realistic and attainable. While I attempt to improve with each piece I make, I also hope that my self worth is not dependent upon what I produce. I want to be a healthy jewelry artist striving for excellence. How about you?
Continue on to part 2 The Healthy Jewelry Artist: Fighting Perfectionism
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