There’s a TED talk by Reshma Saujani called Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection. Saujani is the founder of Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit working to close the gender gap in tech.
In this talk, Saujani says:
…at the fifth-grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science, so it's not a question of ability. The difference is in how boys and girls approach a challenge. And it doesn't just end in fifth grade. An HP report found that men will apply for a job if they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women, women will apply only if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications. 100 percent. This study is usually invoked as evidence that, well, women need a little more confidence. But I think it's evidence that women have been socialized to aspire to perfection, and they're overly cautious.
The need to be perfect before you begin, or to happen upon the perfect situation before you perform, might be so normal to you that you don’t even notice it.
Today, walking my dog, I was thinking about some singers I’ve known, both students and colleagues, and I remembered this talk. Because yes…in my experience the singers who wait to be perfect before they begin are nearly always female. And their numbers are abundant.
Sometimes they’re not only waiting for themselves to be perfect, they are also waiting for the world to become perfect. The perfect group of people or the perfect situation may someday present itself, and when it does the singer will feel safe. When she feels safe, she will sing.
The need to be perfect before you begin, or to happen upon the perfect situation before you perform, might be so normal to you that you don’t even notice it. Reading this piece may make you notice it. It’s everywhere, and in nearly everything you do.
I notice it in myself all the time. It's frustrating. I mean, really…does anyone care if my house is messy, or that I haven’t finished writing my second book and when I do it won’t be right, or if my high note was a tidge flat? Does anyone expect that kind of perfection from me, other than me? And do I notice that kind of lack-of-perfection in others?
No, and no.
Though my perfectionism didn’t stop me from pursuing being a professional singer, I realize now that this absurd current runs beneath nearly everything I do and say. Knowing it's there means that it’s up to me to become aware of that ridiculousness. It means I have to choose to implement some tools to combat it. If I don’t, it will win. My first line of defense against letting it limit and control me is awareness.
This post, though, is for you. Not me.
If you want to sing, and you’re not singing, or if you want to perform, and you’re not performing, then there’s something in your way. The thing that’s in your way lives in your head, and it might be perfectionism. You may be waiting to be perfect before you begin. You may be were waiting for the world to be perfect before you begin.
I have two really good reasons for you to start singing.
You don't get a lot better by just practicing. It's a combination of practicing and performing experience that creates great singers. Even singing at a karaoke bar can start to make a difference in your awareness and attitude.
No matter how awesome you become, some people won't like your singing. They also won't like your hair, or outfits, or tattoos, or genre...just...whatever. You can't please everyone, despite what the Perfection Myth is telling you. Accepting that can set you free.
You're already good enough to begin. So don't be perfect. Just begin.
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