Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fear of Completion

For much of my life I had trouble finishing things. I would start on a project, like making a quilt, and devote hours to it. Then I would find myself slowing down as I neared the end, and it would often just sit there, unfinished, for months or years. Sometimes forever.

Then one day I realized that I had a fear of completion: there was an image in my mind of the perfect finished product, and I was sure that what I was doing would never match that image, so I preferred incompletion, where I could continue to dream of perfection, rather than finish and realize my imperfection.

The aphorism “the perfect is the enemy of the good” seems apropos here.

Just recently I ran into a musician acquaintance and he told me how he just didn’t seem able to finish writing the songs he started. “They didn’t sound good enough to keep working on them,” he said. I told him how my musician husband, over the years, had recorded his songs and consistently hated the sound of the recording. Then, years later, he’d listen to the cassette tape or CD and say, “you know, this is pretty good.”

A component of universal human insanity is self-hatred. All of us are encumbered with doubts and insecurities.

It’s like there’s two parts of us. One is vibrant and alive and creative, wanting to share our vision with the world. The other part is fearful and dark and suspicious, sure that our vision is silly or worthless or stupid. This part convinces us that if we express ourselves we’ll be shot down as a fool—“you actually thought that was of value?!”—so we shut ourselves down. We censor ourselves.

Some years ago I produced a weekly one-hour TV show, and simultaneously wrote a weekly opinion column for a local newspaper. I was forced to get over my fear of completion! I learned how to just do the best I could, because I didn’t have time to hone anything to perfection. And one of the benefits was that by completing one thing, I opened up the space for something new. I found that all of that incompletion acted like a plug, blocking creativity and expression.