Life Skills: The Myth of Perfection

by Erica Peterman

Perfection is a myth.

In order to have an authentic performance, you have to be willing to tell the truth and be seen. But truth is messy, and vulnerability is scary. What if you mess up? What will people think?

Perfection—the idea that it’s possible to not make mistakes—is a myth. It’s the enemy of progress. And the big lie is that is attainable. It’s not.

Learning this was life-altering for me. After studying the Meisner technique, I allowed myself to let go of being ‘perfect’ and start being ‘real.’ Not only was my work as an actor more compelling, but I realized the beauty in my fellow actors when they shed the skin of perfection and allowed themselves to be seen. In theatre, ‘safe’ is boring. Nobody wants to watch 2.5 hours of polite people having healthy relationships! We need conflict; otherwise there is no plot, no depth, no character development. There’s nothing real about it. And what we long for is authenticity. Think about it: You can always spot a true professional—not by whether or not they mess up, but by how they recover. Because that’s real.

That‘s why we encourage our students at the Acting Studio to make mistakes! Mistakes are BEAUTIFUL opportunities to learn and grow. We want kids to take risks and be brave. That’s how you learn. Of course, the cycle of please, perform, perfect, repeat is hard to break. Perfectionism was part of my upbringing, so I still struggle to temper my high expectations and give my daughter a healthy outlook on success and accomplishment.

“Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think?”

Dr. Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

I’ve found the following guidelines from Love & Logic author Dr. Charles Fay very helpful, and I hope you will, too:

  • Model learning from making mistakes. Kids need to see us trying new things, making mistakes, learning from these mistakes, and trying
  • Love your children for who they are. When humans feel loved and accepted for who they are, they’re more likely to take the healthy risks required to become all they can be.
  • Respond to their mistakes with empathy rather than anger. Obviously, it’s best to avoid flying off the handle when they blow it. Remember: Empathy opens the heart and the mind to learning.
  • Focus on effort rather than IQ. Parents who constantly praise, “You are so smart!” often raise kids who avoid trying anything that they can’t complete perfectly.
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