One of the things I run across a lot are people who want to do things perfectly. They want to make sure they do things right or correctly. There’s a certain amount of good in this but it can also easily tip into perfectionism and that’s when we end up biting the dust. The biggest way we do this is through procrastination. I know this because I’ve been there. How procrastination has shown up for me has been through “working” on a song until it’s just right. For other people it may manifest in not even trying at all through telling ourselves “what’s the point. No one’s going to see or watch or listen to it anyway.” Let me ask this though
What happens when we just allow ourselves to play? To allow ourselves unfettered joy of what we’re doing in the moment.
So many times as adults, we lose sight of this enjoyment to the spectre of perfectionism. So I would like to (hopefully) break this choke hold by offering up a couple of things that have worked for me
Letting go of expectations. This is HUGE. I’ve been in the position of writing a piece of music with the idea of writing my opus magnum and ending up flopping on my face. This happened when I started writing a piece for this one competition many years ago. I had already written a beautiful 40-minute long work (that didn’t qualify) and thought I could do it again. For the next four days, I sat on my living room floor with a sheet of manuscript paper fussing, sweating and straining to write the first eight measures. On the fourth day, I took a step back and realized that it was eight measures of mediocrity and gave up. This led to a plethora of thoughts of “am I decent composer?” “can I even consider myself a composer when I write crap like this?” “am I even going to write something like Our Last Good-byes again?”
So a little context. Our Last Good-byes is the 40-minute long, multi-movement work I wrote in 1998 to commemorate the ending of the WWI. It’s 40 minutes of lush chords, twisting and turning melodies and TONS of emotion that I channeled through the words of the WWI poetry I used for the piece. In short it’s an anti-war piece as felt through the eyes of those who fought it.
Writing this piece was the most cathartic creative thing I’ve ever done. I wasn’t only channeling the emotions from the poetry but also exorcising my own emotional demons through the music. I still remember the feeling of accomplishment and enjoyment I had during and after writing it. I still feel it’s my best work that I may or may not equal ever again. And this brings me to my point of perfectionism. I expected the piece I was writing for the competition to be equally riveting for me. But it wasn’t and I felt like a failure. When I gave myself the chance to look at why this didn’t work, I figured out that Our Last Good-byes was written totally in the flow of things. It was like everything magical on both human and spirit levels converged and poured out onto the page. Plus I didn’t have a deadline with it. Taking this step back to objectively (key word) figure out why the second piece didn’t work was the best gift I could have given to myself. It allowed me to let it go and start feeling that I am a good composer and when ideas are forced onto the page, it simply doesn’t work out as well. It was such a valuable lesson for me.
So I f you find yourself with high expectations of what you’re creating, don’t. Let it go. Take a deep breath and take the pressure off. Sometimes, things are more like a practice session or an exercise to hone your skills. If it does turn out to be more than that, great! This is why writing Our Last Good-byes worked out so well for me. I had zero expectations of how I wanted it to turn out and just let notes flow into the page the way they needed to. And just for the record, I just did the same with my brand new song Beneath the Moon and so enjoyed the process every step of the way.
The bottom line is I allowed myself to simply play through my writing process using the skills in composing and recording I already have while learning new skills. Not sweating details until I needed to and problem solving any glitches along the way. As a result, things came together with ease. Well, except for one weird technical glitch that showed up but I even met that with a sense of play and curiosity and figured my way through it.
So I hope you find this article helpful What are some of the ways you can allow yourself to play? To let go and just enjoy the process of learning while doing? Let us all know in the comments below.
Many thanks for reading this! I hope you are enjoying the process of whatever project you’re working on!
Until next time, take care of yourselves and of each other!
P.S. Mastery comes from allowance to let yourself play. ;-)