Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Forget being perfect

Posted on March 04, 2014 by jimparedes

Posted on February 22, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 23, 2014 – 12:00am

I’ve been on overdrive the past two weeks with too many things that I need to do. It seems like I don’t stay too long being preoccupied with thinking and doing just one thing. I have been multitasking, using my different skills lately to get all my commitments done.

I did an acting stint for a public service video last week. I wrote some music for a documentary last Monday. I also fulfilled my weekly writing commitment for this column. There is also an online project I am involved in now which I will write about soon. I am also in Bali at the moment to attend a Samsung conference as I write this.

On top of that, there is the little house Lydia and I are building at the back of our property which I check on a few times a day. I am also working on a few commissioned songs that are slowly being written inside my head. On Monday, I will be performing a few songs with the AMP band for a tribute to the late musician/arranger Eddie Munji whose contributions to OPM are epic. A few more speaking engagements, photography gigs are scheduled in the next month. I really have my plate full.

Compared to how I was then — and how I used to do these things 25 years ago — I am much calmer now. At that time I would get too hyper and stressed out doing everything I had to. While I had no doubt that I would get them all done, I would practically be running on empty with very little sleep, with a not pleasant disposition until I finished them. But hell, yes, I would get them done and it did not matter to me whatever shape or state I was in after.

Those were the days when I was a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist. I would leave nothing to chance. I would have all the bases covered. I proudly considered myself as someone who always went the extra mile to get the job done well all because I had said yes to it.

Looking back now, I can see what a thoroughly driven man I was then. And as I go reminiscing about those days, I find myself feeling physically and emotionally tired, with a blur of unpleasant feelings coming back to me. That’s because I was too hard and unforgiving of myself and others.

Perfectionism is a hard master. Things always had to be perfect to a ‘T’ or else it was a failure. I could not stand the idea of being relaxed or cavalier about mistakes being made. I felt that I had to hold the standards up and always made sure that everything was working to a high capacity with seriousness and dedication. I must have been so difficult to work with then.

I was doing a lot of work with APO then and I knew that my drive for perfection was taking a toll on my two friends. I was always pointing out mistakes and hardly recognizing or acknowledging the good and positive things being done by others or myself. I was like this for years.

One day, after some words were exchanged between the three of us, I decided that I would stop being a perfectionist and just let things flow. Just like that, I made a resolution and mostly followed it. I stopped nagging and listened more. It did not mean that I stopped caring or that we would stop rehearsing and allow our standards to go to pot. It just meant that I would stop being obsessive and trust that things would get done without me having to always be the catalyst.

In no time, I noticed a general improvement in our relationship as a group and as individuals. As I got calmer, the atmosphere was more relaxed and creative. I began to notice that more and more, the two other guys took more interest in the music, spiels and the performances we did. And things were more enjoyable because we were more spontaneous about it.

One of the things I learned because of all this is that perfectionism is a crazy thing. I noticed that instead of bringing out the best, it actually brought out the worst in me, and the people I worked with. I became obsessive, unpleasant, and felt I carried an unjust burden because I cared more than the others. At least that’s what I believed I was doing. And carrying that burden must have caused a resentment in me which made me a nitpicker and a fault-finder.

Today, as I find myself being swamped with work, I feel I can be less stressed about it than I used to be. And I can carry it out with more joy and pleasure. Sure, there are deadlines. But I know I will meet them better if I do not worry too much. I work by “watching the flow” and going with it. And the easiest way to be in the flow of things is to simply show up and start the work. By simply being present and beginning the work, my creativity immediately awakens and begins connecting, piecing disparate objects and making new creations. It’s like I can readily summon my powers to do what needs to be done while remaining relaxed.

The perfectionist in me used to make things appear harder than they were. For one thing, I never felt completely happy nor content despite all the work I put in. Nothing was trivial. Everything was way too serious. Strangely, even a rough draft had to be close to perfect or I could not continue. Everything just had to be better, or the best all the time. And so I ended up repeating myself quite often, since I followed a tried and tested formula that had delivered before. In the process, I would severely criticize myself for being predictable.

I know a lot of young people who think perfectionism is a wonderful thing. They see it as one trait that separates them from others. Maybe it seems like a good thing to them in their young age. But sooner or later, they will realize it is not a sustainable attitude.

They will soon discover that their best work still awaits them when they discover the inspiration one can get just by being present to the flow. Fresh ideas and spontaneity will emerge, and they will feel a personal joy and satisfaction that is more sustainable.

My simple advice is this: Relax. Pay attention. Work hard but joyfully. However your work turns out is the state of the art of where you are right now. Compared to before, you will either be better, or worse, or just the same. Accept that and make peace with it. There are better ways to do the work than trying to make everything perfect.

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