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Creative Work: Preparation, Performing, Perfectionism

Michelle Williams as Marilyn MonroePreparation is often a crucial part of creative work, and many, if not most, creative people are highly sensitive – which can enhance this preparation.

With something like twenty percent of us being highly sensitive, that means there are many performers with the trait – musicians, actors, public speakers.

In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD writes that public speaking or performing is “a natural for HSPs… First, we often feel we have something important to say that others have missed. When others are grateful for our contribution, we feel rewarded, and the next time is easier.

Second, we prepare. In some situations… we can seem ‘compulsive’ to people not as determined as ourselves to prevent all unnecessary surprises. But anyone would be a fool not to ‘overprepare’ for the extra arousal due to an audience. Having prepared best, we succeed most.”

She adds, “(Those are two reasons why all the books on shyness can cite so many politicians, performers, and comics who ‘conquered their shyness, so you can, too.’)”

I appreciate what she is saying. I used to associate high sensitivity only with introversion (as I am), but Dr. Aron notes on her site “30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion.”

Video: “Preparation, Performing, Perfectionism” – Brief comments by Russell Crowe on preparation as an actor, Cher on striving for excellence, and Dr. Aron on why public speaking and performing are natural for highly sensitive people.

[See more of my Videos.]

Aron and others note that perfectionistic preparation – of a speech, an art project, an acting scene, or whatever sort of performance that demands care and craft – may be a way that sensitive people work to avoid potential “upsetting” consequences such as social reactions if a performance is not “just right.”

But, of course, no matter how well-prepared it may be, a performance can’t be “perfect” in any absolute sense.

That’s one reason I like Cher‘s comments I used in the video: “I never feel that I am getting it right. I just keep trying. It’s kind of a work in progress all the time for me. Everything, all of it — life, career, whatever.”

Hilary Swank also expressed a healthy attitude: “The great thing about my Oscar [for Boys Don’t Cry] was when I received it, they put the nameplate on with my name crooked, and I went home and I was like, ‘I am going to have to take that back and have them fix it.’ Then I said to myself, ‘This reminds me that I’m not perfect, my performance wasn’t really perfect, and that I still have a lot to learn.’ To a lot of people, this represents perfection and it’s not.” [Gotham, May 2002]

Michelle Williams as Marilyn MonroeThis photo, and the one at the top, is Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn.”

By the way, Monroe was considered very introverted, which for many people overlaps with the personality trait of high sensitivity.

One of my articles: Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts.

Producer Harvey Weinstein said he was impressed at the level of Williams’ preparation, how she could quote passages from Maurice Zolotow’s biography on Monroe.

“Michelle researches a role like no one I’ve ever encountered,” Weinstein wrote in an email. “She watched and studied the movies and photos; she read every book, every biography.… She could describe how Marilyn wiggled and winked while quoting some of her best lines, [like] when she teased that she was nude by saying, ‘I have nothing on but the radio.’”

From my Inner Actor article: “Michelle Williams on Interpreting Marilyn Monroe.”

Sometimes we may be overly critical about meticulousness.

Actor Jennifer Connelly once commented, “I am an obsessive-compulsive and a perfectionist. I don’t say it with pride.” [in Vogue, quoted in The Week, Nov 5 2004]

But we can also celebrate it, like director James Cameron, responding to being called a perfectionist:
“No, I’m a greatist. I only want to do it until it’s great.”

Related sites of mine:

High Ability

Highly Sensitive

The Inner Actor


Creative Work: Preparation, Performing, Perfectionism

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2013). Creative Work: Preparation, Performing, Perfectionism. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 18, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Oct 2013
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