ProcrastiNation: Does India's Culture Of Perfectionism Hinder The Art We Create?

ProcrastiNation: Does India's Culture Of Perfectionism Hinder The Art We Create?

Procrastination is probably the greatest nemesis of creative work. It’s a self-defeating behaviour that can have a crippling effect on your career, especially if you’re an artist. And if you work solo it can get even more daunting when there’s no one else to hold you accountable to your goals but yourself. Kiki Vhyce, an Australian bodybuilder and fitness model put it best when she said “Procrastination kills more dreams and goals than failure ever will."

While it may seem like the choice to procrastinate is under our control, I've never been a fan of its trivialization; how we just call people lazy when they show a pattern of unfinished tasks. We’re told to "...get off our asses and work," in the words of Kim Kardashian. It’s tied to our identities which invokes shame and debilitates us even further. If millions are experiencing and suffering from the same thing around the world, it cannot be just a matter of choice and will. It has to be connected to a deeper issue.

Psychologists have identified various drivers of procrastination, from low self-esteem to anxiety, depression, and a lack of structure. Research has also shown that procrastination is closely linked to rumination; which can either be a fixation on negative outcomes or excessive planning which is more comforting than actually taking action because it’s under our control and free from the possibility of failure. Another study comparing the self-worth of British and Indian kids suggested that the dominant parent figure is mostly responsible for their kid’s self-esteem. And since the father plays the central role in and outside of a family in our country, at least in two-parent households, he’s the one that influences the self-worth of the child.

Comparing that with the strong patriarchal structures our parents were brought up in; a system that has no regard for a man’s mental health and emotional well-being, we can fairly assume that through our fathers, toxic ideas of self-worth have passed on to us as well. We’re all too familiar with male figures in our families or society who are either too intrusive or detached, too controlling or absent. Their parenting styles aren’t exactly positive and in a myriad of ways we learn to link our worth to our work through them. India is infamous for this as well. Our academic accomplishments are directly proportionate to the love and affection we receive. We end up carrying the same unhealthy patterns into our adult lives; burdening our work. We become perfectionists. And all procrastination is, is a direct symptom of perfectionism.

Perfectionism has no place in art which is subjective and interpretive. And our value doesn’t come from our work. Every human being is worthy of love no matter what. We know it but fail to embody it. When we can separate our value from our work, we’re free to make mistakes and truly be creative because it’s not threatening our self-worth; we can elevate to a lighter space of action.

The capitalism-driven narratives of no rest and constant grind also enforce the idea that productivity is of the utmost importance. It makes us believe that rest is a reward for our work, not a necessity which can be damaging. The notion of “making it” by a certain age takes all the fun away from the creative work and puts an industrialized constraint on it. You can’t put a deadline on creativity. Ideas come in their own time. Though you can create structures to hone your skills so that you’re ready when they do. But a certain discipline and some emotional regulation are needed to build productive habits. Procrastination is about managing emotions, not time. When we delay a task we know is important, it’s not because we think we don’t have enough time, we just don’t like the way it feels, maybe because of the pressure or the fear of failure, so we ease ourselves with distractions. And the guilt compounds and adds even more resistance the next time we try to do it; which in an artistic endeavour, can be mistaken for a lack of passion or inspiration reducing our drive even further.

The dream is some sort of unfolding, of who you are, revealing what’s there like a flower blooming, and resistance is like the shadow of our dream, directly proportionate to it. The bigger the dream, the bigger the resistance.
Steven Pressfield

My oldest dream of mixing and making music is reaching 10 years now. I’ve started my journey and given up many times, in different cities, with different mentors. Each time it comes back stronger. What once had the spark of inspiration now carries the weight of abandonment. I’ve fed my fear for years and created this monster that stands behind me every time I’m trying to create a mix. It feels like a friend because we share a history. That’s what procrastination can develop into over time.

Art needs a judgement-free space to breathe. And since we’re the mediums it needs a clear path to work through us. Our fears and compounded guilt block that path. Art doesn't expect anything. All it asks is that we be honest and courageous. Forces beyond our control might have damaged our self-esteem that fuels our procrastination but it lies within our responsibility to heal and give art that space. The creative spirit, when allowed to flourish can aid that healing too. It’s difficult to find the balance between accountability and creative freedom. But art can become a celebration of self-expression if we just show up.

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