Fighting A Musician’s Tendency Toward Perfectionism, Part Five

A team of supporters for a musician relaxing together on the beach to fight perfectionism.

Part Five: Assemble Your Team


We’ve defined perfectionism, seen its devastating effects, learned who’s most vulnerable to its attacks, and established ways of viewing perfectionism as the enemy. Once you’ve decided to wage war on perfectionism monster, you’ll need to assemble your team.

No one wins a war alone. As a perfectionist, it’s important for you to have a team to watch your back, and for you to learn to trust and value your team. Friends and family can help you recognize when to try a different tactic, change objectives, or take a break. In addition, you’re going to need peers, models, and heroes.


Peers are the people going through basic training at the same time as you. You may find yourself trying (either consciously or unconsciously) comparing your progress to theirs. The National Association Of School Psychologists (NASP) writes that “Perfectionistic students are often competitive with others in the class or school.” Some C.O.s (commanding officers) compare peers to motivate you to work harder. This can be helpful at times, but keep in mind that ultimately your peer is your comrade-in-arms, not your enemy. The NASP recommends cooperative activities, where peers work together on a problem. For musicians, ensemble groups (whether duos or symphony orchestras) are a great way to do this.

A team of assembled peers (young ladies) ready to perform together in recital.
Photo Credit: Nishad Prabhu

Models are people who have completed basic training before you, but who are people close enough that you can imagine yourself becoming like them. Models can be more-experienced students, parents, and teachers. Alyssa Austin of Connections Academy recommends student models so you can see them work through failure. For this purpose, it may be most helpful to find students only a couple of years ahead of you, as it can be hard to see the struggles of students working far ahead. Those more accomplished students can also be models, however: look at them to see what’s capable as you continue to persevere.

Teachers and parents can also be models, and you may be a model yourself to a less-experienced student. Alison Smith of Teacher Starter writes that “It’s incredibly powerful to break these misconceptions, reveal your own imperfections and be a model of how to react to error.” She reminds models to talk about errors: analyzing them, responding positively to them, and working to fix them. Similarly, Colleen of reminds models to “Take pride in your work and don’t hide your mistakes or criticize yourself aloud. Congratulate yourself when you’ve done a good job, and let your children know that your own accomplishments give you satisfaction. Don’t overwork.”


Heroes are the people that seem like the best, people you can always look up to. When building your team, don’t be afraid to include some super-human heroes, but make sure they don’t lose that human quality. Colleen recommends the book “Mistakes That Worked,” which lists inventions like Frisbees and Post-It Notes that were created from someone’s failures. The NASP recommends movies, shows, and books with flawed characters.

Jascha Heifetz, a hero to many violinists, performing in Carnegie Hall.
Violin Hero Jascha Heifetz at Carnegie Hall in New York, 1947
Photo Credit: United Artists / Federal Films – Screenshot

Michael Pyryt, for the Davidson Institute, recommends that students study the lives of eminent people. He writes that “The The 12-year-old student needs to know that Einstein didn’t produce the theory of relativity at twelve,” and that age 12, “Einstein’s potential greatness was masked by poor school performance.” Pyryt also writes that from biographies, students can learn that “the path to success is not a simple linear one,” and that “Barriers such as rejection, illness, economic misfortunes, and relationship issues can make it difficult for an individual to achieve success and maintain it.” Seeing that great effort and perseverance in the face of obstacles are needed even from heroes can give you courage in the midst of war.


Team assembled? Have a little fun: think about a team you like and imagine your team’s characters filling the same roles. If you picked a sports team, who’s the forward or quarterback or goalie. If you picked a team of super-heroes, who on your team is the funny one who helps you relax, and who’s the more serious one who gives you a stern talking to when you need it? Try naming your team.

Now that your team’s assembled, it’s time for basic training. Next week learn about your tools, practicing maneuvers, and running drills.