Perfectionism and Performance Anxiety: A Singer’s Tale

By Angela Peterson Winter

Perfectionism is often lauded or admired in the high-achieving, high-functioning society in which we live, but the truth is, its effects can be devastating, especially for artists who tend to have fairly sensitive souls. Perfectionism is not only an underlying factor in performance anxiety, but is also linked to general anxiety, depression, even suicide rates.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? Think about it . . . Have you ever been in the middle of a performance when you realize your teacher’s in the audience and you try to do everything she’s ever taught you? Or missed a note and a barrage of critical remarks flood your brain, berating you and distracting you from the music? Or maybe, as I used to, you go into a performance believing that if you can just do it perfectly, all will be well – everyone will like you and maybe you’ll get hired for something else? What happens to your connection to the music when these things happen? How do you feel about yourself and your performance?

For me, perfectionism has driven me to some pretty great achievements including high honors throughout school, scholarships, ample praise, and the motivation to keep honing my voice and art. But it has also driven me to chronic self-doubt, illness from taking on too much, never feeling ‘good enough’, and yes, performance anxiety. The end result has been that even as I achieved and accomplished seemingly great things, I was never satisfied and felt like a fraud.

My struggles with perfectionism are not over and may never be, but I have learned that the only way to be “perfect” is to be completely and truly myself, which means being wholly imperfect. To this end, I’d like to share with you two mantras that have shifted not only my own thinking and performing, but also my clients’. They both come from Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson, a gem of a book.

“Just show up and be average.”
“Close enough is perfect.”

In the world of improvisation, there is no right or wrong, no way to be perfect, no mistakes, and whatever happens is exactly what will carry the scene forward. Your only job is to show up, be present, and trust that close enough is truly perfect.

Although, we can’t always see it, the same is true for our classical singing. When we stop striving for the impossible standard of perfection or doing everything exactly right and give ourselves permission to just be average, our whole body (and voice) relaxes. Our mind can let go and stay connected to the beautiful melodies and impassioned emotions. The anxiety lessens and, by accepting ‘close enough’ as good enough, our deep creative voice is free to express itself. The result is our unique brilliance shines through… and that feels… perfect!

Angela Peterson Winter, M.M. is a voice teacher and life coach who helps singers and creative souls find their voice and express who they really are. She helps them pinpoint and release the stuck places throughout body, mind, spirit, and voice so they can sing with ease, perform with confidence, and create with authenticity. She holds degrees from Butler University, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and training in life coaching and CCM teaching methodologies. She was also a 2011 NATS Intern. Learn more at

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