All Or Nothing

All Or Nothing May 31, 2013

I frequently fall prey to an all-or-nothing mindset in both my creative and my academic pursuits, and I doubt that I’m the only one with this problem. Those of us who are academics are often driven to achieve perfection by both internal and external motivations, and thus we hold ourselves to incredibly high standards, leading to a lot of self-criticism about works-in-process that we don’t think are “good enough” to show other people. This Chronicle article about getting feedback on your writing, even when it’s incomplete or in rough shape, describes precisely this phenomenon (and it’s what inspired me to make this blog post, though this topic’s on my mind fairly often).

Those of us who are artists face many of the same obstacles: the pressure to have polished pieces to perform or sell can be enormous. These pieces help us attract students, pay rent, and exhibit our styles to our communities, involving us in dialogue about our creative and critical choices.

In both communities, it can be difficult to ask for guidance or help in the creative process. I tend to assume that most of my colleagues (in both dance and academia) are at least as busy as I am, and why would I ask them to give up their precious time? Further, it can be difficult to find someone who’s enough within my specialty to offer useful advice, unless of course I’m just out for the “lend this another set of eyes to make sure this makes sense” sort of critique.

I’ve noticed this brand of perfectionism spilling into other areas of my life, too. If I can’t find a whole hour to devote to yoga and stretching in order to further my dance, I feel myself getting stressed and wondering why I bother at all and how I’m ever going to improve. Recently, I’ve been reminding myself that 15-20 minutes of yoga will always be better than no yoga. If I can start to identify when an “all or nothing” mindset has gotten a hold of me, hopefully I can do a better job of combating it in order to grow as a scholar and artist. If I can work on, for example, taking advantages of those tiny cracks and crevices in my schedule to accomplish a few things here and there, rather than fretting about not having “enough” time to really make a dent in a given task, that’d probably be helpful overall.

With any luck, I can leave the all-or-nothing mentality to occasions where it doesn’t hinder me. I’m curious to hear about other people’s strategies for dealing with this issue.

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