Perfectionism and Fear
Brigida Swanson
By Brigida Swanson
Art and Leadership Teacher  
 
November 8, 2018  
 
As the middle school art and leadership teacher, I’ve witnessed for many years how art and design lessons can naturally serve as catalysts to teach leadership skills. By practicing risk-taking, giving/receiving feedback, and learning how to successfully collaborate, girls can grow self-confidence in their strengths and gain an eagerness to explore beyond the obvious.  
 
Two road blocks that keep some girls’ from taking on leadership and gaining confidence is fear and perfectionism. Middle school students can internalize pressure to get good grades, to be everyone’s friend, to be super talented or participate in every activity. Social media and comparison to their peers can also play a role in intensifying the pressure to be perfect at everything.  
 
In art and leadership classes, students learn from their mistakes in a safe, low-stakes environment. They learn to get messy with the process and to face what causes them to avoid risks. This experience can remind them of the strengths they possess and help them face whatever challenges come their way.  
 
In the sixth-grade leadership class, girls participate in activities at the beginning of the year to recognize their inner critics and mentors. We utilized some of the exercises Tara Mohr discusses in her women’s leadership book, Playing Big, and explore these topics by adapting them to fit the middle school level – and incorporated art to provide a hook. Mohr describes the inner critic as a personification of self-doubt, and the inner mentor as each person’s internal wisdom.  
 
As a part of these exercises, the sixth graders note when their inner critic tells them “you’re not smart enough,” or “someone else did it better,” or “people will laugh at you.” We discuss how to challenge self-doubt by understanding when your inner critic is trying to protect you from risks that seem scary. Noticing what your inner critic says, and recognizing that it really isn’t the truth, can help to quiet the doubt and start taking on challenges.  
 
We go through the process of character creation to draw our inner critics and give them names. This way, the next time self-doubt creeps in, we can acknowledge it for what it is and let it know, “thanks for your concern, but I’ve got this handled.”  
 
To counter the inner critic, we also go through an exercise to find our inner mentor. I lead the class in a visualization activity to help the girls imagine an older, wiser version of themselves to seek advice from. They create mixed-media collages to put their inner images on paper and flesh out their ideas of who they want to become and the life they want to lead. The girls learn that when they experience self-doubt, they can always call on this inner version of themselves to seek the encouragement and wisdom that they need.  
 
Self-doubt is something that the girls will face throughout their entire lives, but by practicing risk-taking in a healthy way, they will be more in tune with facing their fears head-on. They will also learn to sit with the discomfort of trying something new before they achieve mastery. Taking on fear and perfectionism in leadership roles and through art classes helps girls to grow up with more confidence. They are willing to take creative risks in spite of the challenges they might face.  
 
This is really what we strive to do as teachers at Forest Ridge, to develop our students into self-sufficient young people who have the skills and inclination to express themselves creatively and with confidence.
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