One thing I love about theater is the “magic” of the stage. By this I mean that somehow (probably because of the light designers), things can appear completely different from the audience than they do on stage. In my experience of community theater, costumes and sets are always put together in quite a time crunch, and there's no time for perfection. All we have to do is get it good enough for stage, and the theater magic will do the rest. Is that a real boulder? Nope, just a wire frame covered in a canvas that has been spray painted to look like one. Wow, that gown looks amazing! Surprise! It's held together with tape, safety pins, and sheer force of will.
I find the same to be true with any projects I’m working on, whether it’s planning an event, writing an important email, writing these blog posts, baking, sewing, or literally anything else I work on. I can only produce things that I see as “good enough for stage,” and I can’t see the “audience’s” perspective. I see the safety pins, imperfections, and bits of tape, and it’s often all I can focus on. Somewhere between my perspective and others’, that same “theater magic” seems to appear, as others are able to see my work for what it is - perfectly acceptable work.
Being critical of yourself isn’t all bad, though. Whatever it is that makes me self-critical is the same thing that makes me very good at what I do. It makes me motivated to keep trying and keep improving. It keeps me from developing an ego. Having an incredibly high standard for my work means that I (usually) produce very high-quality work, even if it doesn’t meet my impossibly high standard.
I still haven’t figured out how to see my work through the lens of others and be able to see it for what it is rather than only seeing the imperfections. What I am learning to do is be more comfortable with the imperfections - to be okay with “good enough for stage.” This has been an important step because it’s the only way I’m able to put my work out into the world. If all I can see is where it needs improvement, I’m too ashamed to let anyone see it. However, if I can see the imperfections and accept my work as it is, I can share it and be proud of at least doing that. I have a hard time being proud of what I’ve produced, but the pride I find from being courageous enough to put out imperfect work is just as valuable.
Many times I think I’m afraid to think something I’ve created is my absolute best work. If I admit that I could not possibly have done any better and then receive critique, that’s hard to take. So it’s a defense mechanism. I feel like I can handle criticism better if I can get ahead of it and go ahead and criticize myself, but that’s not really how it works. Elbert Hubbard, an American writer and philosopher said, “There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” So since I’m unable to avoid criticism, my only choice is to become more comfortable with it. Being a person who creates anything is a vulnerable position and it takes a lot of courage, so if I’m able to put work out into the world, especially if it’s imperfect, that is something to be proud of.
One day I may become less critical of myself. I’ve read a lot about this topic and one of the quotes that has stuck with me is from Brene Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability. She says, “Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.” It sounds so simple! Maybe one day I’ll learn how to do it. Until then, I can be proud of my courage to embrace the vulnerability that comes with sharing my imperfect work with the world. Until then, I can be proud to just step out onto the stage.