It turns out that I was probably a perfectionist before I was a musician. That’s pretty impressive considering I started learning the piano when I was four years old! Both of my parents were highly successful and well-respected musicians, and it was my mother who first introduced me to the piano. This student/teacher relationship unintentionally became the foundation of my perfectionism; I was just like any child at a young age, eager for acceptance and love from my mother, but the extra layer in our relationship proved difficult for me to navigate. I was too young to be able to separate the musical element from the rest of it, and the mistakes I made in piano lessons felt like the end of the world as a result. To me, making a mistake gave my mother an opportunity to love me less, and this proved to be the bed-rock of my maladaptive perfectionism, provoking often violent outbursts every time a mistake was made.
Of course, my mother loved me whether I made a mistake or not, but I didn’t know that. We didn’t communicate in that way; partly because my parent’s generation weren’t wired to do so, but also because perfectionism wasn’t something that was really understood. Both my parents were perfectionists, but I don’t think they really knew they were until much later in their lives. As it happens, I followed a similar path. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I started to understand that I was a perfectionist, and it took a heart attack in 2017 when I was 43 to fully appreciate what my perfectionism had done to my body over the years. My deeply rooted maladaptive perfectionism and feelings of low self-esteem prompted me to make MANY questionable lifestyle decisions with smoking, alcohol, drugs, and poor diet in my 20’s and 30’s, which in turn helped cause a 90% blockage of my right coronary artery. To quote the cardiologist who operated on me "You are one lucky guy - that artery was hanging on by a thread!!"
Now I’ve understood my perfectionism and delved much deeper into the subject in general, my stance is clear;
Perfectionism has both a positive and negative effect - my work ethic helped me become the Music Director for one of the biggest musicals in the world, but my low self-esteem and inner critic has caused plenty of damage.
The management of perfectionism should not promote the recalibration of standards – aiming for ‘excellence’ is all well and good, but what is achieved in the pursuit of perfection, in my opinion, delivers too much to let go.
Self-Compassion is vital in the management of perfectionism - to succeed in realizing our true potential, we shouldn’t adjust the distance to our chosen destination, we should be kinder to ourselves on our journey to it.
If you struggle with perfectionism, and would like to work with me to find better and healthier ways to live with it, contact me! I’d be thrilled to work with you, and help you on your journey!