Karen Meador, Ph.D.
In a previous article, the discussion focused on recognizing perfectionism and some of the difficulties this “ism” can present. Following is a brief discussion of things that might help alleviate perfectionism and allow the jewelry artist to be healthier and more productive.
Most of us would agree that unhealthy perfectionism can be the basis for either procrastinating or for working overtime. These opposites can both result from the fear that what you produce might not turn out to be perfect. There are, of course, other ramifications from unhealthy perfectionism, but these two alone are sufficient to warrant a personal change. For example, if you are a professional designer seeking income from your jewelry sales, you can ill afford to take too long on each piece. As they say, “time is money” and we lose the latter when we work too long on a single piece.
I’ve read many articles concerning how to cure perfectionism. They fall into two basic categories: adjusting attitudes and taking action. With those in mind, what can we do to avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism? Dan Bobinski (http://hodu.com/perfectionism.shtml) recommends replacing perfectionism with something else such as” patience and a light-hearted approach.” He suggests that we should learn to good-naturedly tolerate delay or incompetence. I cannot imagine that this would be very simple for someone who demands flawlessness, but it may be appropriate to try to start with this attitude adjustment. It’s the basis for giving yourself a break. Most perfectionists are their own worst critic; therefore, patience with self is absolutely necessary.
Marty Nemko (http://martynemko.blogspot.com/2008/07/effective-way-to-get-unstuck.html) suggests a time centered approach that targets both procrastination and overtime work. Set a timer and allow three minutes to jot down the steps required to complete a given task. Then use the timer again to sloppily complete each of the tasks you jotted down. Finally, keep revising each step until it is done. In considering this approach, think about when and if using a timer has been helpful to you. I remember a favored student of mine who was taking hours to complete her homework each evening when it could have been finished quickly. Eventually, her parents set the timer and allowed her a mere 30 minutes for homework. Yes, she was able to finish and her work was still excellent. Personally, I’ve had to set a timer so that I didn’t spend too many hours doing “marketing research” on the computer. It really wasn’t necessary for me to examine every single photo of wire bracelets available on etsy!
Let’s apply Nemko’s three minute approach to making a soldered pendant from sterling silver wire. I would set the timer and jot down the steps required for making the piece. These include creating the design, cutting and manipulating the wire, soldering the wire together with the bezel and pickling the piece, cleaning the piece, tumbling the piece and finally setting the stone. Next, I can allow myself three minutes to create the design and another three minutes for each of the other steps. Even if this pendant is a bit sloppier than some of my others, I’m thinking that if I keep within the time limit I will improve my skills. Since I can’t create any more work time in a single day, it makes sense that a better approach is to get more from the work time I have. This three minute approach should help. As for perfectionism, the approach allows no time for this malady.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that some people do not see perfectionism as unhealthy. There is a fairly scholarly discussion of this at the following address: http://www.gifteddevelopment.com/PDF_files/crucibl.pdf . No author is provided, but I believe this piece is written by Dr. Linda Silverman, as authority on gifted children. The author admonishes that “Perfectionism is not a malady; it is a tool of self-development. It manifests as dissatisfaction with what is, and a yearning to become what one ought to be.” The article discussed Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration wherein perfectionism is thought to be an early form of the drive toward self perfection. This is a fascinating theory and I encourage you to read about it if you have interest.
I think that we could all agree that there are both negative and positive aspects of perfectionism. The trick must be figuring out how to eliminate the negative and build on the positive. For example, some jewelry artists are HEALTHY perfectionists. They realize that the work involves learning, a process that involves mistakes. Many of these artists have learned that by focusing on the process of designing, they will, indeed, produce a favorable product. As the process improves, so will the product. If we can look for progress in our own development through self-assurance and tolerance during the learning process, then I believe that this dedication to perfection will be healthy and turn into the drive for EXCELLENCE.
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