Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order. -Anne Wilson Schaef
A few months ago, I had a trial piano lesson with a man, probably in his mid-40’s, who described himself as a beginning piano student. I came to the lesson prepared to show him where middle C was on the keyboard, a bit about reading music, and perhaps an introduction to the C major scale.
I learned to play piano and read music from lesson books by the likes of John Thompson, John W. Schaum and Michael Aaron. Typically, these books graduate in complexity from grade one to grade five. As a senior in high school, I had gotten through most of grade four, after 10 years of lessons.
My “beginning” trial student that day pulled out a grade three book and played a classical piece beautifully, making one mistake in the middle of the second page. He was frustrated that he continued to make mistakes at all…and that they were always in different places.
I gently explained my definition of a beginning student (has never read music and doesn’t know where middle C is), that he was far too advanced for me to be able to teach him…and inquired if he might be a bit of a perfectionist…? He took a breath, paused, and said, “You could say I’ve heard that before.”
At it’s root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being perfect. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success. -Michael Law
One of my regular students at Lake Music, a 12-year-old, is one of the most dedicated students I’ve had. I’ve only had one other student who has worked as hard as “Karen”, as I’ll call her, and has learned piano so quickly. Karen will soon be starting voice lessons as well. Yet, I’m concerned about her – because she is so hard on herself. I’ve interacted extensively with her father, who sits in on most of Karen’s lessons, and I don’t feel the pressure is coming from her parents. I’ve learned in casual conversation during lessons that Karen is the eldest of four siblings.
I don’t know where Karen’s drive comes from. She’s a joy to work with. Yet I wonder if the need to excel is robbing her of her own joy in the process of discovery and growth.
It’s healthy to commit to learning, growing and becoming the best musician or speaker you can be. I want to become the best vocalist and voice teacher I can be. But that’s not the same thing as perfectionism. The need to be perfect can either stop you dead in your tracks or make the path you’re traveling toward any goal or dream tense and miserable.
I mentioned this to one of my other piano students, a 38-year-old adult, who readily shared with me that the scourge of perfectionism lead him to seven years in therapy and prescription medication. One of my fellow certified Transformational Voice® Teachers, Maire, describes herself as a recovering perfectionist. She once shared with the apprenticeship training class how when people would “accuse” her of being a perfectionist, her response was, “How can I be a perfectionist? I never do anything perfectly.”
And it wasn’t a joke. This was her reality at that time. Breaks my heart.
Thankfully, Maire, a classically trained soprano, decided to become gloriously imperfect as a voice and yoga teacher, singer, songwriter and recording artist with the other half of The Boston Imposters, her husband, Davey. I love their debut album and shudder to think of a world without it, had Maire allowed perfectionism to keep her from expressing her beautiful authentic voice in the world.
Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect; it makes you feel inadequate. -Maria Shriver
To uncover your authentic voice, (no perfectionism allowed!) join me and Brenda Bryan’s Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Powerful Speaker’s Club at Swaha Studios on April 11th, 1:00 – 4:00 for The Four Vocal Superpowers Most Pros Don’t Know. Register by emailing info@LauraHandke.com. $97. $75 for Speaker’s Club members.
Please spread the love and pass this along to a friend!
Love Your Voice and Voice Your Love,
Lake Oswego’s Transformational Voice® Teacher (Transformational Voice® is a registered trademark of Transformational Voice® Training Institute, LLC, and Linda Brice.)