Licia Sky's Advice for Perfectionists

I recently attended a songwriting workshop, a terrifying prospect for me. I knew my first attempt at a complete song would not be flawless.

“Ah,” said our intuitive leader, singer-songwriter Licia Sky. “You’re a perfectionist.”

I don’t want this to be so. I want to be a groovy free spirit, open to trial and error. But, when faced with unfamiliar tasks, my instinct is to run and resist, terrified of failure. Or I dip in and quit. I think, I’ll never be Joni Mitchell. Why bother? Thus, my many false starts. I have a notebook of unfinished lyrics I’d like to burn.

“We start things and don’t finish because we think, ‘Oh that’s not good enough, it’s not worth finishing, I have to fix it,” said Licia. To counter these thoughts, she suggested that we “get unsettled” when they crop up. “Move to another place in the room. Stand up, if you’re sitting. See things from a different perspective.”

Unsettled? I wanted to be grounded, at ease. But I did as she asked. And as a result, some surprising insights came forth during our freewriting exercises.

“Breathe,” she reminded us.

Licia, also a bodywork therapist, believes in an embodied approach to expression, whether in song or speech. This means tuning in, giving ourselves permission to feel sadness, anger, stress, tension, or resistance. “Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and honest is what makes us interesting. All of our parts get to be here. Not hiding is the thing that makes people hear you.”

Licia compared this notion to the Japanese art of kintsugi, translated as “golden repair,” where broken pottery is mended with powdered gold lacquer. The cracks are then highlighted, the fractured bits made beautiful.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. Cracks? Beautiful? But I begin to see her point. I don’t have to run from the parts of myself I deem unflattering. Imperfections are acceptable. In fact, in Licia’s view, they’re worthy of highlighted expression.  

Having worked for years with students recovering from trauma, Licia culls her workshop exercises from mindfulness, music, yoga, bodywork, dance, and theater training. “My exercises are meant to be a practice,” she explains. “They don’t instantly change everything overnight, but over time, we can develop an expanded array of conscious choices and responses regarding what to pay attention to, what to be aware of, and how to interact with and respond to what we notice.”

I think about my tendency to erase unpleasant sensations. During my decade as a commuter in Manhattan, I left my apartment each day armed with sunglasses, earbuds, and coffee, my senses either muted or distracted. This felt self-protective at the time. I wanted to block out anything uninvited.

“We live in physical bodies that are experiencing a constant flow of environmental stimuli,” says Licia. “We are constantly choosing, consciously and unconsciously, what to engage with and what to ignore, and choosing how we will engage. How we choose and filter stimuli determines how we fare in the world, how we’re able to recognize opportunities and dangers, and how we perceive others.”

I can see now that my earbud routine was a shield. It often stunted my connections with others. I was isolated during those years, unwilling to admit my fears and discomforts, intent on “succeeding” in the big city. I felt disembodied, unable to heed to my own physical cues. I ground my teeth at night until I cracked fillings, yet I couldn’t acknowledge my stress.

“When we slow down enough to not be in habitual mode, we notice our own physical reactions and responses as they are happening,” Licia says. “We see where we are in space, we see the people around us more clearly, and we are more aware of body language, social cues, and our commonality. The world can become a bigger, richer place, and we can have more safety, agency, creativity, and competency in it.”

Though I hate to admit it, I didn’t finish my song by the end of the workshop. Licia offered to work on it with me via Skype later on. And during that session, in the privacy of my home office, I allowed myself to break a little. I wrote about my father, who died 12 years ago. I began to recognize how much I miss him. And how infrequently I let myself dwell on this.

“It’s important,” Licia says of my song.

I believe her. I won’t talk myself out of writing it anymore.

I can embody the cracks, the broken parts, in other words. I can perhaps mold them into something brighter.

Find out about upcoming programs with Licia Sky at Kripalu.

Lara Tupper is a singer, novelist, and aspiring songwriter.

Lara Tupper, MFA, is the author of two novels, Off Island and A Thousand and One Nights, and Amphibians, a linked short story collection forthcoming in 2021.

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