“Perfect is the enemy of good.” — Voltaire
For most artists, creating is the fun part. The problem comes when they want to get their work out in the world. They have been bitching and moaning that they’re nobody recognize their art for years, but when they have the chance to put themselves out there, they fold. They hide under the covers, they don’t return e-mails or phone calls. Since they are clever people, they come up with clever excuses like, “I am not ready,” “People are born with talent, and I don’t have it,” or “I am going to make a fool myself.” These are lies, and not even original ones at that and they’re coming directly from Perfectionism, which, as we all know, is a big fat liar.
Let’s address these lies one at a time:
- “I am not ready”
I have said this my whole career, especially when faced with a new opportunity. And guess what? When I have pushed myself to do the thing I am terrified of doing, 85% of the time I am pretty good at the thing I thought I wasn’t ready for, and when it is over, I can’t tell you how proud I feel that I followed the fear did it anyway.
- “People are born with talent, and I don’t have it”
Everyone’s talent has to be developed. I started out in the Chicago comedy scene back in the ’90s and I saw a lot of people make it big. The people who made it certainly had talent, but they didn’t just have talent. They keep pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. Stephen Colbert was one of those people who was at Second City around the time I was at iO. And Colbert said he learned a very important lesson from his director, Jeff Michelski: “You have to learn to ‘love the bomb.’ It took me a long time to really understand what that meant. It wasn’t, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it next time.’ It wasn’t, ‘Laugh it off.’ No, it means what it says. You gotta learn to love when you’re failing…” Though Colbert was talented, he realized he still had ways to go in developing it.
- “I am going to make fool of myself”
What does that really mean? Are you going to feel silly or feel embarrassed by putting yourself out there? The answer is yes. But really, this feeling is all in your head, because people really aren’t thinking about you as much you think. When I started out in improv, I really sucked at it. For years I sucked at it. When my friends and family would come to my awful shows, and they were awful, in the back of a seedy bar, they never criticized me. Actually, it was the opposite. They always admired me for doing it, even though I wasn’t very good. Who feels silly now?
There is no such thing as perfect, ever.
I’m not saying cut corners and just throw some half-baked idea out there, but on the other hand, don’t wait until every fucking star aligns, you’re at your perfect weight, and both of your parents are dead to show your work to the public.
So many artists have dreams of making it big, but they wait and wait and wait so long to actually write that screenplay, finish that book, film that pilot, etc. that they never actually do it. And the reason they’re waiting to do it is because they want it to be perfect.
Some artists actually wear perfectionism like a badge of honor. They like to talk about what they are working on more than they like showing it to the world. That’s fine, but I’m not sure this makes you an artist.
The reality is there is never a perfect time or a perfect theater or a perfect publisher… or a perfect agent. You get where I’m going with this? You will hate me for saying this, but I have performed thousands of scripted and improvised shows for more than 30 years and I have never, ever done a perfect performance. Why? Because like the Loch Ness Monster, it does not exists.
I have not written a blog, including this one, that I have not wanted to make changes to after it was published. I have never done an improv show that when it over and I didn’t wish I had made different choices. I have not performed a story on stage that I didn’t think could have gotten stronger laughs. I have done tons of incredible performances, gotten great reviews, standing ovations and performed to sold-out crowds, but even those shows had flaws. They were not perfect. This can either drive you crazy or keep you humble. Most of the time, it keeps me humble.
If you have been taking acting, improv, sketch, stand up, or storytelling classes for years, at some point you are going to need to get out there in front of an audience and risk the chance that you are not going to be perfect, and maybe even awful.
If you have been slaving away for decades writing a play, a book, or a film/TV script, at some point you are going to have show it to someone who actually could do something with it like produce it or publish it or at the very least represent you. And yes, when you show it to one of those people, you take the risk that you’ll be flat-out rejected, but you also take the chance that they can help you get it out to the world.
And when you do get rejected or get horrible review or you bomb, and hopefully you will, Perfectionism will tell you this is the end of the line. Quit now. That is what Perfectionism wants. It would actually prefer that you don’t even start in the first place, and it’s pissed off that you’ve gotten this far. If this sounds painful, it is, and if you haven’t experienced this, then you haven’t put yourself out there. Perfect is not a goal; it’s a suicide attempt. Aiming for “Just Good Enough” is realistic and practical, and speaking from experience, every time I put any of my art out in the world, even when it’s just good enough, it always comes back a little closer to perfect.