I ran across this phrase – My work has yet to live up to my standards – and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. On the one hand, I think it is very good to have standards, especially high standards, for your work. It helps to push you to always be better, and to strive for more. If I had been content with mediocre, had set my standards lower than I have, I never would have accomplished what I have so far. Not to mention that I wouldn’t be as happy as I am with the work that I have done and am doing. That being said, in the last couple of years, I have definitely lowered my standards.
I feel that amongst artistic people* there is an excruciatingly high prevalence of perfectionism. I think to a certain degree, it is that very perfectionism that makes a master stand out from an amateur. It is that perfectionism that drives them to keep working on their craft until it is just right. I would wager that even DaVinci winced at an imperfection or two on the Mona Lisa that he couldn’t get quite right. However, I also think one of the main differences between a master and an amateur, is that the master has learned to let go of a piece before its perfect, because they have learned that perfection is impossible.
I am surrounded by incredibly talented people. Being artistic/creative I tend to be drawn to that type. But it breaks my heart at how many of them don’t share their work, or don’t value their work. And inevitably, the reason that they don’t share it, or value it, is because it’s not good enough, or they didn’t get it quite right. Trust me, I can sympathize with that feeling. I definitely know the horror of letting something out into the world when it isn’t perfect yet. This is why it took me until I was 25 to start sharing my writing with people. So I know how that feels! What I never realized though, is how much I would grown as a writer and how much my writing would improve, by the simple act of lowering my standards and letting it go before it was perfect.
Is it still hard? Absolutely. Do I still cringe when I read something and realize that it could have been phrased better or more eloquently? All the damn time. But the flip side is that I am much happier with my work, and quite frankly, happier in general as well. I have also learned to be much more gracious with myself when I do make a glaring error. I was supposed to release my second children’s book last week, but within an hour of turning on my online store and announcing that copies were available for sale, a co-worker pointed out to me that there was a misspelled word. And not just any word, one of the vocab words, which means that it appears twice . . . misspelled. FUCK!!!
I immediately turned off sales, announced an apology that it wasn’t available and began beating myself up. How in the world did I miss that? I was the one who did the final proof, and I thought that I had gone over the entire thing with a fine-tooth comb so that it was perfect before sending it off to the printer. I had even spent 10 minutes on one of the pages with the misspelling, deciding if I had the rhythm of the phrasing correct. How in the world could I have possibly missed that?!?!? Easy. I’m not perfect, and neither is my work. It never will be, and quite frankly I’ve lost track of how many professionally published books, by famous authors I have read that have misspellings in them. So as far as errors go, I’m in good company. But here’s the real kicker. The issue was discovered before I had sent a single book out. That’s when I stopped beating myself up.
That error had become a non-issue. Yes, I now have books that I won’t sell on the open-market and have had to get creative in an attempt to recoup some of the cost – Speaking of which, if anybody is interested in a limited run “White-Out” edition of 10 Cheeky Monkeys, at a highly discounted price, let me know. Seriously, I’ll even sign it. – but, I was easily able to make the needed correction, as well as a few other tweaks, and get a new run of books started. In the grand scheme of things, that mistake is pretty damn minor. But 5-6 years ago, it would have crippled me. I don’t know that I would have been able to bounce back from something like that anytime soon. It is amazing what a remarkable difference has been made in my work/life/psyche since I decided to lower my standards. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still really damn high, just not as unrealistically high as they once were.
So I guess what I want to say to all of my artistic/creative people out there, and anyone else who needs to hear it, if your work, after years of working and practicing, has never lived up to your standards, maybe the problem is with your standards, not your work. Let the world see your gifts my friends. Life can be an ugly place without art.
*I’m sure this is true in any field, but as I have the most experience with those of the artistic persuasion, that’s what I’m focusing on.