We all want to create our best work, reaching for an ideal. But when we attempt to attain “perfection,” we can often end up spinning our wheels, afraid to show our creative work to the public.

In this episode, John discusses how you can avoid the perfectionist trap and get your voice, songs, and teaching out to the world.

Episode Transcript

Episode 114 – The Perfectionist Trap

Hey there, this is John Henny. All right, I have to give a bit of a setup to today’s episode that deals with avoiding falling into the perfectionist trap and this is either a happy accident or irony by too, when I went to edit this episode, I realized that I had the wrong mic selected and I was speaking into a mic that wasn’t turned on and the mic that was picking up my voice was a distance away and the audio is not what I usually like it to be. And my first thought was, Oh dear, I have to re-record the whole thing and then I stopped and went wait a minute, this whole episode is about not falling into the perfectionist trap, so don’t do it yourself. I’ve certainly listened to podcasts where the host was interviewing someone in a hotel lobby or they’re doing it from the road and the audio quality was less than optimal, but the podcast episode was still great. The idea of a podcast is to impart information. It’s not to test your audio file headphones. So with that in mind I am going to do as I say and not fall into the trap. So I present my non audio file version of The Intelligent Vocalist. 

Hey there, this is John Henny welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. All right, just a quick note if you are interested in my teacher training program the contemporary voice teacher Academy, the price is going up soon. So if you want to get in before the price hike, go to johnhenny.com and click on teacher training in the menu and you can get all the information there, but it will take you step by step through becoming a contemporary voice teacher. 

There are quizzes, there’s a certification test and I also offer one on one coaching for your studio business goals. I have a special email address where you can ask me any and all of your business-related questions and I will give you my best help and advice. Alright, today I want to talk about the perfectionist trap. Now this is something that I will see in students and it takes a few different ways that it manifests itself and sometimes it’s an excuse. I’ll be honest, people will just talk themselves into I’m a perfectionist and it gives them an excuse to not get out there, to not take risks, to not perform, to not record because they’re so deathly afraid of criticism and I’ve said this before, if I could give you one superpower, be it singers, voice teachers, anybody. It’s to not care what others think, that just becomes so limiting and so paralyzing. And it’s very easy to say, Well, I’m a perfectionist. It’s not up to my standard and you’re just simply avoiding the risk of criticism and you know, the critics ultimately don’t matter. I take my own share of criticism, it’s honestly, it’s not that much.

There’s only been a few times where it kind of landed where it hurt a little bit and I realized, you know, it just get over it. What you have, there is an audience for what you do, there are people that can be touched and helped by you and you owe it to them to get out there and not worry about the critics and the naysayers. And so you just want to watch that, thinking about perfectionism and labeling yourself a perfectionist. Oh really be careful with that. Really be careful with embracing that and really watch that it’s not an excuse. There’s the old saying and now a paralysis by analysis and it’s something that I deal with when I’m developing a course, even doing these podcasts. There are episodes where it ends and my brain wants to start going back and nitpicking and could you have said that different and were you clear enough on that point and did you babble a little bit and yeah, occasionally I will ramble. As I’ve said before, I don’t write these out. I think it’d be very stilted for me to sit and just read from something. What I do is I get a topic, write down a few points, I’ll think about it and then I’ll just talk. And if it resonates with an audience, great. 

I can’t nitpick and worry about it. I never get anything done. I’d never get any of my courses out there. I wouldn’t be able to help people become voice teachers if I did this with my teaching course. I’m just constantly creating content. Some of it’s better than others. I watch and see how people react and I respond. I certainly don’t take the opposite approach. I think that we’ll talk about kind of that Dunning–Kruger effect which is, all of giving yourself too much credit and thinking that you’re better than you are. And that’s something that terrifies people. And we’ve all seen singers who have an inflated sense of themselves. I mean, they become the butt of the joke on shows like American idol during the audition process. And people just watch the carnage as these inflated egos will go before the judges. 

And just get destroyed and they’re not good singers at all. Some of those people that I’ve seen, I don’t know if they should have been on television. Some of those people seem like they may be on the spectrum a bit and I think, I don’t know if they still do it. I don’t watch American Idol these days, but there were some cruel episodes, but that’s a whole another topic but this idea and this fear of overestimating our abilities, you certainly don’t want to be that person either. You just, you want to have a clear picture of who you are. Now is perfectionism always bad? No, of course not. There are people who are perfectionists who create great lasting works of art. One of my favorite artists Peter Gabriel, is a notorious perfectionist in the studio and he would just take years to get something out. 

Now, I think it’s getting close to 20 years since he’s released something so that perfection isn’t now starting to become a bit of a problem. Steely Dan, if you listen to any of their recordings, from the 70’s and 80’s, they still sonically hold up and they were notorious perfectionists doing take after take after take. But these works of art hold up. Stanley Kubrick, a notorious perfectionist take after take, but you can watch the shining today and it’s an amazing work of art. But they didn’t let their perfectionism crush them. It didn’t bring them down. It was, they talk about perfectionist strivings versus concerns and they had perfectionistic strivings they were out to do the best work, they absolutely could, rather than allowing this idea of perfectionism to attack their self worth and their ego and shut them down. And that’s where you really, really want to be careful when you are working on your voice, allow your perfectionism to show you. 

If you identify as a perfectionist, if you’re someone that strives for excellence, that’s fantastic. That is actually a very healthy way to look at these things. But if you feel that you really have perfectionist tendencies, and from what I read, more and more young people tend to have this and it can be very damaging if it’s not managed correctly. So if you find that you have this, use it to show yourself where you can do more work. What you can focus on in your voice, what you can practice on, what you can go find a good teacher to help you with, but don’t let it start to destroy your self worth, your motivation, your love for singing. If your perfectionist tendencies kick in that internal negative dialogue, where you just start beating yourself up, that is not healthy, that will shut you down, that will stop you from reaching your goals. 

And speaking of goals, you have to set realistic goals. I can’t stress that strongly enough. You need goals. You need places, where you want to improve. But you cannot look, I’ve had students look at the greatest singers in multiple genres and they want to be as good as the singers on every level. They will look at singers who have voices completely different than theirs and say, I want to sing like this person as good as this person. That’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen in the way that they are thinking about it. If you are listening to Whitney Houston and you want your voice to be as big as hers, you likely don’t have her instrument. Very few people do. You have your instrument. You need to find your goals, not other singers’ goals. And I stress again and again in these podcasts to really embrace who you are. 

Your special gifts. It’s about you. Nobody is looking for the next Whitney Houston because they have all of Whitney’s recordings. I’ve heard singers try and be the next Frank Sinatra and man, there’s really all these years later, there’s really only one Frank in terms of just his beautiful tone, his phrasing ability, his connection with lyric and his ability to tell a story what Frank had was magic. But you have your own magic. Frank wasn’t worried about belting out high seas. That wasn’t his voice. Frank wasn’t worried about having the biggest voice in the world or being able to do, great agility and run his voice up and down. He knew he wasn’t Ella Fitzgerald, so he didn’t try and compete with Ella because Ella is a next level, brilliant in a different way. So Frank got stuck in some perfectionist tendency that he wasn’t measuring up and his ability to scat sing like Ella. 

That’s not what Frank did. Now on the opposite end of perfectionism, Frank was notorious for not wanting to rehearse. I would, I recently read, the biography of Bob Fosse, which is a fascinating book. But there was one incident where he got a phone call and the person heard, Bob Fosse asked the person on the other line, I really appreciate that, but I have to ask you, would you be willing to rehearse and have an intensive rehearsal schedule Okay then, I’m sorry, but we can’t work together. And when Fosse got off the phone he said, I just turned down Frank Sinatra. So Frank was, Frank knew he had the goods. He knew what it was he wanted to express. He wasn’t caught up in going back and being a perfectionist. He just got his work out there. There were stories of mathematicians, scientists who would become so obsessed with making everything perfect that it’s been said. 

You know, if they had just published their work, they would have advanced their field by decades, but they didn’t because they got caught in the trap. You can’t afford to get caught in the perfectionist trap. So if you are identifying as a perfectionist, what I want you to do is to really just step back and analyze how that’s manifesting in your life and how that’s manifesting in your singing or your teaching or your wanting to put content out there. And if it’s an excuse for you to hide from criticism, that’s something you have to deal with again, if you can be impervious. Is that a word I think so to the slings and arrows that come your way, that is an amazing gift. Otherwise you’re just going to come to the end of your life with regrets. So look and see if it’s an excuse or look and see if it’s manifesting itself as something, perfectionist concerns that are starting to rip it yourself esteem and to pull you down in that way that’s actually more serious. Or do you have perfectionistic strivings is it really about the work? Are you really just trying to be the best you can be and to make your work the best it can be? And at that point you have to really stop and say, when is it good enough? When is it good enough? I’ve got a new book coming out. It’s at the editor right now it’s not great. And I knew though that I had to send it to the editor because otherwise I could feel myself. I was starting to get in the cycle of going through and picking apart and second guessing and moving paragraphs and taking lines in and taking them back out. And I just stopped and went okay, now I’m starting to spin my wheels. Now I’m not moving forward. But the paralysis by analysis is beginning. And I made myself send it to the editor. 

And when that comes back, in a couple of weeks, I’m going to allow myself one pass through to incorporate his suggestions, maybe make a few changes on my own, and then it is going to test readers. And if you want to be a test reader, go to johnhenny.com get on my email list. I make offers like this special thing to email us. I don’t make this to the general public. So and you’ll see places on my website where you can sign up for my list and I’m sending it out to the test readers. I’m going to get their feedback within a week or so. I’m going to allow myself then a few days to incorporate what I think makes sense and then I am sending it to be formatted and published. I am not going to allow myself to get caught in this paralysis. 

And will the book be absolutely perfect? No, but in today’s world, if something’s really wrong, I can go in with digital publishing and publishing on demand and make changes. I did that with my last book. I published my book and found a couple of typos, even though so many people had gone through it, went back in and changed it. Even though a good friend of mine, talked about putting out his book and he goes that you know, I left a couple of typos in there just to remind myself that things don’t have to be perfect. And I kind of like that. I don’t know if I’m going to do that cause the typo would really just keep me awake at night. But I liked that. I liked him embracing non perfectionism. My gosh, if you go back to the Beatles, there are moments you can hear, voices crack. Even the song’s birthday there’s a part where the background vocals dropped out because an engineer accidentally erased them. And just with the technology that they had, they couldn’t go back and keep redoing everything over and over. If you hear a color shaking, that’s one of my French Bulldogs coming over to see what I’m doing. Hi Charlie. You have, everything’s okay. I’m not talking to invisible people. But don’t allow that trap. Really be honest with yourself and really look at how perfectionism is manifesting in your life and if it’s healthy or not healthy towards your goals and do not let it be a trap. 

Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, johnhenny.com and again, be sure to sign up for my email list. I email a few times a week. I always give updates when podcasts are coming out and then I do send out special offers to email list members all these special savings on my courses things like that. And until next time to sing better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.