The Folly of Perfectionism

Following my post about ‘my fear of failure’, I’m going to talk about a closely related subject “Perfectionism”.  I have been reading a lot of work by Brene Brown of late (her latest book ‘Daring Greatly’ is exceptional) and she is a shame researcher.  I had never imagined anyone would dedicate themselves to the research of shame but I’m glad she did.  Brene defines shame as “The intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”

So what has that got to do with perfectionism?  If we define our self-worth in the eyes of others and we fail to meet their standards we will enter the realm of shame, we are not good enough.  From an artistic perspective, I am not good enough is very different than my photograph wasn’t good enough to win an award.  I can continue to work on my photography skills to be become better.  If I am not good enough, it talks about my worth as a person and shame will start to eat away at me.  Perfectionism, according to Brown, is ‘at its core, about trying to earn approval’.  What do I have to do to fit and become accepted as a (real) photographer?  Perfectionism brings with it anxiety, fear, stress – I can vouch for each of these personally.

Isn’t perfectionism the same as the pursuit of mastery?  I think that depends on the terms of the pursuit.  I look at mastery as the pursuit of excellence, being the best I can be which involves continuous improvement and learning.  I didn’t mention any standards except trying to improve myself.  That is a big difference.

I joined a fashion photo shoot at Mt Hood last weekend and the topic of shame came up in discussion, although not quite in these terms.  Another photographer talked about working with models and was he good enough?  Those models don’t want to waste their time with somebody who is no good.  This is a conversation I have had many times with myself which has held me back.  It is much easier for me to join a photo shoot workshop which is described as a learning activity, therefore others expectations of me are low (phew!).  At the end of the discussion, the leader of the workshop, Hal Harrison, gave some priceless advice “Be authentic and tell the model where you are at, say you will do your best and see what happens.”  This is a great example of being vulnerable and putting your authentic self out there.  When you do that, shame cannot survive.

The biggest thing I learned in last Sunday’s workshop is I am good enough.  I hope you enjoy my pictures from the shoot below and if you don’t, that’s OK we just see the word differently!

One last word, I need to say a huge thank you to Jessica and Sage, our models who worked all day in sub-zero temperatures.  They weren’t just good enough, they were exceptional!  🙂

Sage in the Jaws of the machine!

Jessica Jessica


Sage Sage


Jessica Jessica Jessica

Sage Sage

Mt Adams

One thought

  1. Andy, great stuff. See my blog this week on the Good Enough experience. i work with the many faces of shame all the time. It is endemic. Your work makes me smile.

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