Sunday, June 28, 2009

Being Too Hard On One's Self

An enlightening thing happened to me in the process of preparing this blog. All week, as I was thinking about what I wanted to write here, I had in mind to use a cookie-baking incident from my life to illustrate some feelings I have about singing. I was going to compare the experience of how I once saw professionally prepared cookies in a magazine, and my desire and attempt to reproduce them, to my experience of being inspired by listening to beautiful singing on Met Radio, and my longing to reproduce the beautiful sounds I hear. I was going to talk about my disappointment in both instances to achieve professional results.

I had been planning to tell the story of how 12 years ago I had seen these cookies in Family Circle magazine, and of how cool I thought it would be to make them and bring them in to my son's kindergarten class. In preparation to tell this story on my blog I went down to my basement, looked into my "baking" box, found the cookie picture that had originally inspired me, and scanned it into the computer.

I next dug into my box of 1997 photos, and found the one of the cookies I had made and scanned that in. My memory of the cookie experience had been that I had been very disappointed that my cookies came out so wobbly and I was very disappointed that they did not come out like the picture in the magazine.

I had been planning to compare that experience to my experience of singing: of how I will hear the gorgeous voices coming through my car speakers from the professional singers at the Met, and long to produce sounds like that, but continually have the disappointment of my sound being all wobbly, like my cookies.

But when I found the picture of my cookies, a surprising thing happened. "Gee, these aren't as horrible as I remember them being." At the time I was so disappointed to not have achieved my vision of presenting these gorgeous cookies to the class, and instead I had felt almost ashamed and embarrassed by them. But now, 12 years later, looking at the photo, I'm amazed that I did such a good job on my first try.

Could it be that I have been singing better all this time than I thought I was? Sure, there are some wobbly lines. Yes, the lines are thicker than I planned. Sure, the colors mixed in the frosting are not exactly what I would like, but it's much better than I gave myself credit for, and shows a lot of promise.

I will keep at this until I achieve the results I want. Perfectionism is a tricky thing. It can be good; it can be bad, depending on how it is applied. If we don't give ourselves credit for what we have achieved so far, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. I think we have to be hard on ourselves in our training and work, but not hard on ourselves for our results.

I mean, really, that was my very first time making cookies like that. Who was I to judge the results? And didn't I know that I would have to bake thousands and thousands of those cookies before I would have the refinement and control of the pastry bag to be able to do whatever I wanted?

Now I know. Now there is no shame, embarrassment or apology. Just lots of practice and lots of love put into the work. Making improvement inch by inch, day by day as I work towards mastery. That is fulfilling.


  1. That's the key to a lot of things, isn't it--at least not getting so discouraged by the first attempt that you stop attempting! I think those are great looking cookies, and I happen to know you have a pretty darn fine voice, too!

  2. Very thought-provoking. I, too, am overly critical of myself. I tend to notice all the things I haven't done rather than the things I have done (a different, but similar, mental error). Thanks for this.

  3. Fresca, those cookies look delicious and I would totally eat them!