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Piercers and Perfectionism

When I think of most piercers I know and consider friends, colleagues, and peers, one word comes to mind above most others- a perfectionist. I would say just about every piercer I know is a perfectionist. They come into the studio each day and carefully set up their space for the day, morning routines of cleaning and organizing ingrained in them. They take their time, meticulous in every step, from checking jewelry over before sterilization, setting their autoclave cassette up just so, and having the perfect speech prepared to tell clients about their piercings. They spend minutes and sometimes even hours marking piercings out, focused down to the singular millimeter to the placement of every piercing to ensure it’s perfect. They obsess over angles, even a single degree off of perpendicular is upsetting to the piercers I know. They deep dive into refining every technique they use, from inserts to transfers to actual piercing. They are perfectionists, and for many, they wear this as a badge of honor. They are proud to care so much about what they do, and their clients, and to want everything to be just so.


But what we don’t often talk about in this industry are the pitfalls and the dangers of perfectionism. We don’t talk about being kept up at night obsessing over a piercing that came out at a slightly different angle than we wanted it to. We gloss over skipping lunch because we want to spend more time with a client who needs extra attention, marking that took longer to get right. We pretend that answering Instagram messages on vacation, and on your day off, and at 4 am is definitely, totally ok for our mental health. And we ignore the fact that perfectionism often paralyzes young piercers, making them scared to even attempt new piercings and techniques if they won’t come out perfect the first time. Our perfectionism fuels anxiety, self-doubt, and negative self-talk, and holds us back more often than it makes us do good or precise work.


(We also very much ignore the way this industry encourages toxic perfectionism, in the form of carefully curated social media pages, the idolization of overwork, cruel forum interactions, and an unwillingness by many to admit to making mistakes, being imperfect, and just being human.)


We become so obsessed with doing good work, we stare at the work of piercers online who we consider to be masters of the craft and we despair that we are not at that level. We look at our own images with the most critical eye, deeming everything terrible and worthless because of a perceived flaw that not even most other piercers would notice. Sometimes we do make mistakes and do less than ideal piercings- but we don’t let ourselves grow from them. No, far from it. We fixate on them, we berate ourselves and punish ourselves and build up a mountain of fear and anxiety surrounding this piercing over it. We become so in our own heads about the level of work we do and so hard on ourselves about the quality of our work that in response we shy away from doing the work to get to where we want to be.


We sabotage ourselves because the way to get where we want to be is by showing up and doing the work.


The reality is we don’t do our best work when we are stressed and anxious about whether or not our piercing will be perfect, be photo-worthy, go viral. We accomplish these things when we simply show up and do something meaningful and important to us.


We would be much better off as an industry if we focused not on perfection but on progress. On being a little bit better every day. On refining small things, improving in reasonable steps, and not expecting things to be perfect right away. Rather than expecting to try a new technique or a new piercing and do it perfectly, consistently, right away, we would be much better off if we gave ourselves grace for making mistakes. If we allow ourselves to be imperfect and grow through those imperfections. If we accept that learning a new technique, a new piercing, or a new skill is going to come with making mistakes. It's going to come with doing incorrect piercings. I have met so many promising piercers who knew they wanted to be able to work with internally threaded jewelry or offer surface piercings or whatever their goals were. But their struggles for perfection were actively holding them back. "I missed a transfer with internally threaded jewelry... I'm so scared of that happening again that I can't bring myself to use it. How did you get comfortable with it?"


Bad news- I missed more transfers then you could imagine. I made mistakes, I wasn't perfect. And out of those things, I learned. I grew. I got more confident with them. I learned how to recover lost transfers, the exact amount of pressure to appl;y with each hand to ensurer a stable movement. I learned when to use a taper, and when my hands would be enough. But I only got there by allowing it to be imperfect. By allowing myself to make mistakes. No one is perfect the first time they do something, nor the second or the third. We are going to make mistakes, we are going to have things go wrong. It's part of the process of learning.


But if you don’t get started, you’ll never arrive.


Instead of perfection, put the emphasis on progress. Don’t get so in your own head about it that it never gets done. Show up and do it. Once you are there then you can refine, improve, and grow from that starting point. My first ever forward helix in my apprenticeship was truly awful, just a sincerely bad angle. And a huge part of me wanted to run, to never try again, I felt devastated. I legitimately cried and thought "well thats it. I can't do forward helix piercings." But I didn’t let that hold me back. I continued to try, continued to practice. My second was better, but still imperfect. My third, better but imperfect still. But I was progressing. I was learning. I allowed my perfectionism to push me to continue improving, but I didn’t let it hold me back.


Do not allow your perfectionism to remove you from the piercing room- to leave you so in your own head about every little thing that you lose sight of the client in front of you, the experience you are there to provide, and the magic and passion that should exist in this space. Give yourself grace when you make mistakes, and allow yourself to learn and grow them them. Understand that no piercer is perfect and that we all have off days, we all do a crooked septum every now and again, and we all struggle with an 1/8 inch bead (usually more often than we’d like to admit). Perfection is a pretty-sounding goal, but it’s also largely an unrealistic one. Focus on your progress, on just being a little better today than you were last week.


Please take it from a recovering perfectionist themselves, you will be so much happier and more fulfilled when you stop holding yourself to impossible standards, and just start showing up, doing the damn work, and trying to do good (not perfect) piercings every day.


With Love,

Lynn

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I’ve been piercing for 2 years now and reading your blog has made me feel so much more confident in my abilities , even tho i studied for years and practiced till i couldn’t anymore, it was your encouragement that helped me, thanks lynn <3

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