The Gift and the Curse of Overthinking
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. In recent years I’ve developed somewhat of a more balanced attitude towards most things I do, however if we are using a hypothetical scale where 1 is care-free and 10 is full on nut job, I’m still a solid 8.5.
I’ve been a deep thinker/overthinker since I can remember. An early memory of mine is my Nana would always pick me and my sister up from school and when back at home I would continually pace up and down the front room while my sister watched CBBC and my Nana got extremely irritated. “STOP BLOODY PACING!” was a regular phrase which exited her mouth.
I can’t tell you exactly what was going on for me, but I know I would have been going over and over scenarios in my head. Things that had either happened in the day, things that I predicted would happen and how I would respond, or sometimes just things entirely in my imagination that would never have any chance of actually happening.
This level of overthinking certainly has its pros. Even in what we’ll call my “turbulent” years I still managed to, more often than not, achieve what I put my mind to. Honestly, I’ve always been someone to finish what I started, despite how much I may not actually enjoy what I’m doing. I’m not saying that’s a good thing either, but I certainly wasn’t a quitter and I’m quite proud of that.
Another pro is that most of what I do ends up being pretty good. And I say that as humbly as I can. I’m not saying I’ve never failed, I have, I’ve fell short even more than that, I’ve made millions of mistakes and will probably make a few hundred more (optimistic I know) and I’m nowhere near reaching my full potential in any area of my life yet. However, that of which I have put my mind and hand to, I have not done too badly at.
“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself… It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent”Harper Lee
When I first set out to write this blog a couple of months ago it predominantly came out of me enjoying writing. I’ve always enjoyed it. I remember doing very well in English at school, especially English language. However for most of my adult life, the majority of writing that I have done has been lyrics. I remember at Uni I enjoyed writing the essays, I always hated exams. But it wasn’t until I began a counselling course in 2016 that I began to write again, aside from music.
The first couple of years of this didn’t bring too much enjoyment. I did the work because it needed doing. But for the last 2 years I had been completing my Level 4 in Therapeutic Counselling and like most things, as you move up from level to level, the work became subject to a higher standard.
Now this standard wasn’t marked to the same rigour as University level, I remember what that was like. This was simply a pass or fail. Nevertheless I took care in what I did, I knew I was submitting good pieces of work and looked forward to my tutor’s comments as it was only there, I would get a true reflection of how good my effort was. A pass or fail grading system has its benefits however for somebody like me, I want to know just how well I have really done. I don’t need it, but I want it.
I was very lucky to have a tutor who actually cared about the quality of work he was teaching/setting us and the quality of work we produced. I had a few tutors on the past levels that just “marked” the work. But this one actually took it in, reflected on it and gave a true account of how he felt in his feedback. He really was a breath of fresh air to the whole course, in my opinion.
In my final year he told me in a 1 to 1 meeting that I write very well and that I should look to continue this when finishing the course. He suggested either a Masters to further my studying, or if I wasn’t yet ready to commit to more years of learning, writing a blog.
I’m not sure he had the blog I’ve ending up writing in mind, I think he may of thought a more counselling related blog, however if you read most of what I talk about, it has mental health running all the way through it and I use this as a personal therapeutic exercise. So I suppose it may not be too far from what he expected.
Anyway I began writing, I wrote some of the early articles published here and I bought the domain name, “Home Grown”. This derives from me writing about me, my life and my experiences. I guess most things called ‘Home Grown’ are about people who grow their own food and stuff like that. But for me it means authentic. It’s unfiltered, it’s how it is, it’s relevant and organic and nothing is forced or faked. It’s home grown!
I tried to set up the website so it was really easy to navigate (not one of my strengths but I think I did alright) and then came the time to publish my first article. I waited over a month to do it. I read, re-read and re-read again the first article probably over 50 times, constantly re-structured sentences and paragraphs, swapping a word here for a word there, checking spellings over and over again. I was massively overthinking it!
I wanted it to be perfect! Despite not receiving a massive amount of support on social media, I knew it would get a good few eyes on it. People are nosey enough to look but not brave enough to support. It’s weird, but being a music artist as well, I’m used to it and know how it goes.
The thing is… what the hell is perfect? I was writing a very opinionated piece of text, which expressed my very biased beliefs based entirely on my own experience. How could that ever be perfect? Why would I even want it to be?
I was nervous it wouldn’t be received well, but honestly, in all my years of putting myself out there through music, I’ve never had anybody actually shoot me down! I’ve been ignored, I’ve been over-looked, I’ve been rejected silently, but nobody has ever once took a swing at me and connected. I’m grateful for that as the internet is a crazy place and a lot of people do get publically annihilated. Maybe I will one day too, but it hasn’t happened yet. Usually, people either respond well or not at all.
I then also had to bring myself back down to Earth and remember why I am doing it… because I ENJOY it! I’m doing this for me. If somebody gets something from it, that is amazing, but first and foremost this is to help me.
One of the main cons of being a perfectionist is sometimes you are so concerned with getting it right… you never end up putting anything out. This has been true for me many times in music.
There are tracks I made a few years ago now that I should have just released at the time. They have nothing on the music I am making now so it doesn’t make sense to put them out now but back then they would have done alright, it would have been more released music to help stay active and relevant (something which I find one of the hardest parts of doing music) and who knows, they could have been the tracks which got me to the next level. But out of being too concerned with perfectionism and what to release at the right time and all of that, they got shelved and will now never come out.
Maybe that’s not a bad thing either. The Universe works in mysterious ways and if they were meant to come out they would have done. But there is still something in it.
I know perfectionists. My closest and dearest, especially in music, are definitely ones! In fact, anybody who is pretty good at anything is probably one! You have to be one, to be able to do something to a high standard, because if you don’t hold yourself to those standards, then you probably don’t care enough about what you’re doing.
But there has to be an element of trusting yourself too. Putting something of yourself out there is extremely brave. It doesn’t come easy, or it doesn’t for me at least. The easiest thing to do is put all of the work in to make whatever it is you’re making, then show it your friends and maybe family and not let it go anywhere else. To actually release it to the World takes balls, or heart for those of us who genetically cannot have balls. The offended culture will not come for me today! (Although that is likely to offend them too).
When I released my debut EP ‘Be Yourself’ I remember uploading it to the distributor and instantly saying to Jay (my producer, engineer, label boss and all round bad man plus friend) “Ahhhh I don’t know if it’s ready you know!”
We had spent about 6 to 8 studio sessions just mixing it. Forget how many sessions had been spent making the songs. 6 to 8 just mixing and making little tweaks! We were both bored of it by this point. Something which often leads to things not going out as you become more interested in new stuff and the old stuff just gets lost.
He said to me, “Nah, it’s time to let that one fly and do its thing. It’s out of our hands now”.
There is something very special in those words!
We care so much about the things we do, and rightfully so, but inevitably, it is others who decide whether what we do gets accepted or not. We have no power over that. We are powerless over people, places and things. But I like to think of it a little more deeper than that, because what do other people know either?
It’s the Universe that decides which response we get. If you believe in God like I do, it’s God who decides. We have to be brave and trust that God, the Universe or whatever other energy you believe in has got us!
If you’ve worked hard, you’ve been honest with yourself, you’ve remained true to who you are and you’ve done your best to respect all other life in that process, avoiding short cuts and not using people for your own gain, you will get what you deserve from what you put out. Likewise if you don’t do those things you will also get what you deserve.
I’m a perfectionist, I’m pretty proud of that, but I’m also learning to let go. There is only so much we can actually do, the rest is up to God. I think you have to meet Him more than half-way though. Do all that you can, then trust in the process. For me, the fact that I have no idea of what will come from what I do is the exciting part!
P.S. After pondering over releasing the first article on this blog for well over a month and doing all of those checks and proof reads… the very first word was spelt wrong until a good day after it went live! I think that was the Universe having a little giggle at me and telling me not to take myself too seriously. Nobody noticed, or if they did, they didn’t say a word to me. Proofs in the pudding!
2 thoughts on “Perfectionism”
I dentify with a lot of the feelings expressed in this piece. I write, too, and mainly because I feel the need to, and I’m a perfectionist: that doesn’t mean I think I’m perfect, but writing is something I can do, so I want to do it well. I focus, drill down, enjoy the discipline. I write poetry, which, for me, is a strait-jacket made by angels – I use the restriction of form to help me to say what I want. Keep writing, Rob, keep growing, keep living your life, keep discovering it.
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Your ability to write is the reason I am able to today. You taught me everything I know, and everything else I haven’t learnt from you yet. So thank you!