Do you find that no matter how well you audition or perform, you’re never satisfied? Are you feeling like you’re always coming up short and nothing you do is “good enough”? Whether you’re beating yourself up over teeny tiny details or regularly dismissing opportunities because you’re afraid of doing a less-than-perfect job, know that there is hope and a better way. As someone who personally struggles with this issue, I’ve gotten better at it over time and have recently discovered something that I trust you will come to appreciate, too. What is that? That there’s a big difference between perfection and excellence, and furthermore, only one of those is attainable or even expected of you.
Here are three truths to hold onto the next time you’re tempted to over-analyze your work or be critical of others.
1. Perfection is unattainable. Fact: Your perfectionistic tendencies may be ruining any hope of having a thoroughly enjoyable acting career. Sound a bit harsh? Well, here’s the truth: Perfection is unattainable. There, I’ve said it! This might come as a relief to you, or perhaps, it’s triggered a different reaction. In “The Birth Order Book,” by Dr. Kevin Leman, I learned that many people, particularly firstborns and only children, tow an invisible measuring stick with them wherever they go that is strictly applied, rightly or wrongly, to their work and day-to-day lives. They come by it naturally, so if this sounds like you, don’t be surprised. As a firstborn child, I know this to be true. For the longest time, I couldn’t help but nitpick my own performances, and sadly, find more fault than good at times in the efforts of others. Once I realized and understood that my pursuit of perfection was impossible to achieve, I was able to see how hurtful it was and decided to make a change for my own well being and for others.
2. Being a perfectionist is not a virtue. This one was terribly difficult for me to understand. Shouldn’t we all strive toward perfection? Our culture tells us that perfection is attainable if you do all the right things—if you study at the right school, if you wear the right clothes, if you recite the right monologue! Whether it was hitting the expected note or delivering the line as written, my goal was to stick as close to the letter of the law as possible, thinking that it would make me a better singer or actor. No doubt you’ve punished yourself for being imperfect or for not getting a role. What are you trying to accomplish through negativity? All this does is make you discouraged and harder to get along with. Being a perfectionist is hypocritical, come to think of it. From the outside, you may look like you’ve got it under control, but on the inside, the opposite is true. Just think of that lunch bag in the back of the office fridge that’s been sitting there for weeks. The bag looks fine on the outside but its contents are a different story. When you break free from the shackles of idealized perfection, you are able to pursue what truly makes a difference: excellence. Being excellent in all you do draws upon positive resources like your passion, natural talent, and skills. The pursuit of excellence in your work allows you to be an artist, not a critic.
3. Excellence makes for better acting and better actors. After all this talk of imperfection, how does one pursue excellence? What gets me really excited here is that much of being excellent has to do with things you can actually control, like your attitude and abilities. Since your body is your instrument, part of what it means to be an excellent actor is taking care of yourself. This includes eating well, getting daily exercise, having a restful sleep each night, and generally avoiding anything that will pollute your body, soul or mind. When you’re in good shape physically, you can bring the best version of yourself into an audition, rehearsal or performance. Having a healthy view of who you are and how you were gifted will help you to put forth your best effort and be happy with it.
How can you, an imperfect being, expect perfection of yourself let alone demand it of others? Perfection, this side of heaven, is non-existent. I’ve been doing my best to cast off the chains. This doesn’t happen overnight and it is an ongoing process of choosing to let go.
So what will it be? Perfection or excellence? One of them is well within your reach while the other is, for us mere mortals, unattainable. Choosing excellence will make you happier, freer, and less judgmental. It will also gain you more friends, too! Go forth and be excellent. Being your absolute best will lead to a career where you’ll be inspired and motivated to succeed.
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