Be Brave, Not Perfect

Art print by Elise Blaha Cripe for the Get to Work Book. 

Art print by Elise Blaha Cripe for the Get to Work Book

Ever had a month where work feels like it just is a relentless battle of one chaotic failure after another? That was the entirety of my March. Frankly, when April 1st hit I was glad to be out of that month believing I had some curse hanging over me.

It's pretty easy to displace the blame to other people, and even easier to look inwards and start blaming yourself too when things go wrong.

You didn't land that dream client because your works shit and therefore you are a pretty shit person. You had that fight with a close personal other because it's a reflection of how terrible you are. You haven't been paid in over a month because you're hopeless and you'll always be hopeless. See the picture? 

I recently watched an amazing TED talk from Reshmi Saujani titled 'Teach girls bravery, not perfection' and I started to become aware of something so blindingly obvious. 

How many of my failures have been a result of not being brave enough? Sorry, scrap that. How many times have I NOT attempted to fail because I haven't been brave enough? 

I've always been a massive perfectionist, to the point of reducing myself to tears if I believed I had not followed some homework instructions properly or not getting a piece of work right. It's always been in built into my personality, and because of that I don't usually take a lot of risks because I already perceive myself to have already failed even before I've tried. I have created these little safeguards which I use to protect myself from any possibility of being hurt. 

I think of what it is to be brave and just do and I see that the root of my current problems - creative block, lack of new work, loss of interest and belief in my illustrating capabilities - is because I seem to have forgotten what it is to try and be brave. To be open minded to a world of possibilities without having so many safeguards in place to keep me from getting hurt emotionally. 

In Reshma's talk she talks about the difference in how boys and girls are raised, how this has a profound effect on girls to seek perfectionism more so than boys, and when I look at my husband I can see where she is coming from. There is so much in him that I admire; courage, bravery, and the ability to just start things. I don't ever see him sitting in front of a blank sketchbook crippled with fear of doing rough drawings wrong, and if there's an opportunity for a new brief I don't see him losing his mind trying to figure out every minute detail.

Perhaps it's a gender thing, and perhaps boys are raised differently. That could be only a partial piece of a much greater puzzle. There are plenty of brave women (if anyone's been watching the new series of The Island you'll know who I'm on about) and there are plenty of perfectionist men. Perhaps the key lies in cultivating bravery in people, to teach everyone the value of not being afraid to fail. 

Failure is such a terrible word and I genuinely wish we could eradicate it from all vocabulary. Nothing good ever came from telling someone they were a failure, or from someone telling themselves that they are a failure. Nor does anything good come from people trying to avoid failure. 

Think back to school days and how disappointed you would feel to see the words FAIL on a test. This negative way of grading, of putting people into organised categories, shrinks the world and makes most people believe that they are limited. We know that there are people who break those limitations in the world, who never let those failures hold them back and who go on to do incredible things, but somehow that message might not get through to those few of us who just don't believe that we could ever be that brave. 

It's probably a storyline that will take a while to adapt and shift, but even if it's just one small thing every day that pushes your perfectionist limits to the brink, then that is a positive change. 

For me, I'm working on shedding my perfectionist ways (but not too much, I'm not a maniac) and trying to open my mind to the possibility that it's never too late to be brave and make a change. I've been making small changes to my work routine to try and cultivate more daring and free illustration and so far I'm already feeling a little less stifled. We can only hope that by May I will be an illustration anarchist...

Until then, I hope you all find bravery in the small day to day! 

Deborah x