No matter how many times we hear that, for some reason it can still be difficult to let go of perfectionism. For artists, this is often the case, as they strive for their work to be, well, perfect.
This was an obstacle Yvette Young, a 27-year-old Asian-American musician and artist from San Jose, California, struggled with, especially when she had an eating disorder. Currently the frontwoman of rock band Covet and a solo musician too, we had the pleasure of interviewing Young about how American and Chinese cultures affected her eating disorder, how she coped with suicides within her family, and more. To help you heal, she offered advice, created art and music activities, and a playlist so you can practice letting go of your own perfectionism.
How has your Acoustic EP versus Covet let you express yourself and relieve emotions in a different way?
I think that my Acoustic EP was more like just a way to make an album about feeling. I had a lot of depression back then, and I was trying to tackle themes like escapism and trying to kind of disappear or be somewhere else, or feeling like you don’t fit a mold or something. I wanted to address those themes. Lyrically, I think with Covet, I’m literally going to another place. Like I want to actually transport people with music and singing about it. I want to actually write instrumental music that can tell a story and if you want to leave for a little bit, you can just listen to the music and be taken somewhere.
As an Asian-American musician, have you ever felt as though traditional Asian ideals posed as an obstacle to your career?
I don’t think it has ever been an obstacle. I will say I have faced discrimination sometimes, like people assume certain things about me because I’m asian. People like to make the joke like “oh, damn asians are good at everything,” but I think that just show all the effort I put into my craft. I don’t take it too personally, but I wish that people would stop assuming that just because you look a certain way, you have certain skills. At the end of the day it’s all hard work. Actually, at the end of the day I would say that my upbringing helped my career, because it gave me discipline. I think that’s something in a lot of asian households, like responsibility, accountability, discipline, to work hard for something, and you’re not allowed to quit, I think that actually helped me work harder and have that same mentality when playing something, like I can’t quit, I can’t give up.
How has American culture and Chinese culture has affected your past eating disorder, if at all?
Yeah, I think that a lot of first generation kids probably experience what I experienced, which was cultural misalignment with parents. I think that parents that came over from China have different expectations, different values, different morals, and on one hand you’re raised by them, but when you go to an American public school or a private school, you’re exposed to American culture and it’s more individualistic and more liberal, and I think like open-minded about some stuff, so there’s definitely some classism there. I think part of the reason I got sick was because I didn’t have an outlet to express myself. I was just kind of following what my parents wanted, and I didn’t really have much of an identity for myself. I think a lot of people explore it different ways, some people explore it through body modification or something, or like a hobby or having some kind of outlet. I think it’s really important to have an outlet for that kind of stuff. My eating disorder came around because I didn’t have control over my surroundings and myself, so I kind of turned to food and exercise so I could have something to control. It’s kind of like self harming a little bit, I would hurt myself through not taking care of myself, and it was gratifying in a masochistic way. I think, going back to the culture thing, I think it kind of brought me and my parents closer and we understood that some things weren’t healthy, like total obedience. I think on the whole, our relationship improved a lot because we went through a hardship together and we went to therapy, and we kind of understand each other more now.
In one of your ask.fm questions, someone had asked about your tattoo “to exist in the world but not live in it.” They were curious about what it means, and you said you’re still trying to find words to explain it. Do you have any idea what it might mean to you today?
Yeah, you know, I’m really glad I got this tattoo because the more I live my life, the more I realize that it’s completely applicable to a lot of situations. Like, I got it originally to remind myself to not compare myself to others. I don’t have to conform to whatever the world wants me to do. I am an independent, autonomous person and I can chose to represent myself in whatever way I want and have standards and morals that I think are right. It’s just a reminder to myself that even though everyone around me may be doing something different, I don’t have to compare myself to them and if I disagree with something, I can stick to my guns. Even in the industry, I think that recently something I’m bummed out by is that it feels like a lot of selfish and backstabbing and manipulative people get ahead because they’re okay with stepping on other people to get what they want. That aggression and that individualistic mindset is kind of rewarded in American culture and in certain industries, like in the music industry I feel like aggressive people always get noticed. People tell me to be more aggressive, but it’s just not in my nature. I believe that you can be a good person and not screw someone over and still find success. I guess that success is also relative and subjective, but yeah, I think that recently I’ve been thinking about that and it’s like man, I don’t want to conform to manipulating or stepping on people. I want to exist in this space, in this industry, but I don’t live in it as in I don’t have to become that. I can still try to resist it and be a good person, or however I define myself as a good person.
Also in your ask.fm questions, you mentioned that a lot of your family members chose suicide or attempted. How have you coped with that?
I mean I struggle with suicidal thoughts myself all the time. Well, not really anymore, but I went through a really depressive period, so I think that just focusing on the losses in my family, I just remember that suicide is a permanent end. You can’t undo that. But if you kind of push through the hardest times, you never know what’s waiting around the corner for you. When I was going through my suicidal and depressive episodes, of course you’re not in the mindset to think that everything will get better. You think like, this is life, life sucks, like everything is bad. It’s a chemical imbalance too, but you know, you just have to remember that sometimes thinking about it in a very sterile way, like this is just a chemical imbalance, these thoughts aren’t real, like I wouldn’t feel like this if I wasn’t chemically imbalanced. Thinking about it that way is actually quite comforting because you know like once you snap out of it, everything will be better, and you never know what great opportunities are waiting for you around the corner. So just stick it out and no matter what, something good can happen. But if you kill yourself, then there’s nothing. You don’t have any more opportunities. Any of those opportunities that might have been there for you are gone.
How has your self care routine evolved overtime to let go of perfectionism?
I think I started realizing that I wasn’t enjoying experiences. I’m also a perfectionist with a lot of things, like music especially. I just want to get it perfect every time, and I think touring really taught me how to let go of hang up I have with getting, like a perfect set every time. In life, there are so many things that are out of your control, like so many parameters you have no influence over. I found that going out and playing in different places every night, having some bad shows where it wasn’t my fault and having shows where it was my fault taught me how to let go of trying to make it perfect every time, and it was kind of like an attitude change. I realized I wasn’t really having fun or enjoying the performance part, but the people in the audience were like super stoked even if I thought I messed up. So I discovered it is better to have an attitude that I did my best, I did what I could, and just focus on the positives, and of course keep track of what you can improve on. Just changing my mindset about it really helped me enjoy my performance experiences more, and now I actually enjoy performing whereas before I dreaded it.
Get Creative with Yvette to Let Go of Perfectionism
For a self-help sesh, here are some ideas from Yvette to help let go of perfectionism.
1. Record Freely
Honestly for this one, I just sit down at an instrument with the mentality that I am not here to have an end result or write anything and this whole session is about the process and exploration. I usually do this for 30 min-1 hour and I record the whole session. Then I’ll listen back and choose the moments I like the best and in future sessions I’ll expand and revisit those. This takes a lot of pressure off because you don’t have to think about having an end product to show and helps me view making music more like playtime/exploration time rather than work. Even if nothing sticks, it’s fine because you at least tried. The more times you try the more opportunities you have for something to stick and become something more! I do this most often on piano or guitar!
2. Jam Sesh
Another activity I like to do involves other people! I just find a friend to “jam” with or write stupid music with and it’s a lot of fun. We just improvise and make up lyrics and purposely make something sound really “bad”. Sometimes writing joke music can be really refreshing because it helps me realize that music doesn’t have to be a serious thing and you can just use it to socialize or have a good time with someone while at the same time building your ear! Sometimes we will record the joke song just to have a laugh and a positive memory.
3. Switch it Up
Sometimes in my band we also trade instruments and it’s a fun time as well! It’s like having a carpet pulled from underneath you and sometimes not having the comfort of familiarity can be really eye-opening!
Visual Art Activities:
1. Watercolor Washes
I do a lot of watercolor washes just to get ideas out for color play. You can do it with acrylic too! Basically you just get a bunch of colors on a palette and let your mind and eyes wander. You don’t have to think where you put the colors and you can let them bleed into each other or drip in an “ugly” way. Sometimes I even sprinkle salt over the watercolor to further “disrupt” the even-ness of the stroke and the result can be super surprising and cool. This is a great way to relinquish your desire for control because the end result is always unpredictable!
2. Make it You
I also sometimes buy thrift store canvases and “Enhance” them in playful ways…like I paint new characters or I just make it into an abstract mess. Sometimes I try to change the “meaning” of the painting if there even is one. This takes off the pressure of having to work on a completely blank pristine surface. I really enjoy the idea of working on something with a bit of history or the concept of a palimpsest. It’s kind of like a remix ;)
3. Make it New
I do this with my own old work too! I paint over a lot of old work I don’t like anymore. It’s OK to not cherish everything you make if you see an opportunity for something better!
What are three positive things you like to think of to uplift your mood?
I like to look at pictures of cute birds, that always helps. That’s one. And I always play music. Sometimes I don’t feel like performing, or I don’t feel like writing, but when I push myself to do it it feels so good. It like transports me somewhere and when I go to that happy place in my mind– it’s not even like a happy place, it’s like a peaceful, neutral place where I just think about the notes and how it makes me feel and like the textures and stuff. It really calms me down. I remember recently when I went to Japan, right before my performance I was having a panic attack. I was hyperventilating because I had a really weird altercation with someone and it was just scary. I’m also really sensitive, so I was just having a panic attack, and then I had to go onstage in like a minute. I literally wiped my tears off, and then my bandmates hugged me, and then I went onstage, and I played my heart out. At the end I was like, I feel so good, I don’t even remember my panic attack. I just felt really good to enter the music and forget about myself. Drawing makes me feel the same way, just creating something. Number three is finding good friends. Good people and good company, finding friends that don’t take from you, but like help you. I know that sounds really obvious, but sometimes I feel like I have had a lot of friends where I was giving them my time and stuff, but it wasn’t really reciprocated. So I think having good company really helps, like people to support you and people who push you. And people who will be honest with you and not just tell you what you want to hear. I think that’s really important, because it makes you feel like you have a family, and everyone needs a friend to lean on.
Do you have any advice for those struggling with an eating disorder or body image issues?
Yeah, stick to learning new skills. Learning any skill actually, whether it be dance or poetry or archery, pottery-making- anything where you use your hands and your mind to make something out of nothing. I think that any sort of outlet like that, any creative outlet, gives you a lot of power. And I think for those who feel out of control with their body or their lives or who are stuck with an eating disorder, I think that instead of focusing on yourself and your body, honing yourself into a skill and having an outlet is so much healthier because it gives you a voice first of all. Art and music for me is my voice. I’m not the best talker, I think that I’m often times soft spoken on some things, but I can express those things through my music and my art. It’s easy because I can put it out into the world and it’s not like I’m out there saying it, it’s like my work speaks for me, it’s an extension of me. I feel very powerful when I work on stuff like that because it makes me have a voice and I’m doing something. But I think in general it’s good to focus on something that aren’t external appearances because looks fade, everything fades, but if you have a skill, you’ll have that for life.
For a reflective and meditative playlist created by Yvette for when you need to feel calm:
Thank you to Yvette for taking the time to interview with us. She provided some really great insight into the mind obstacles she dealt with in the past and her career as an artist. She also gave us some really great creative activities to help let go of perfectionism, as well as a playlist for when you need to be in a calming mood. Thank you Yvette!
Listen to her latest EP below:
Interview by Sarah Smith*.
Edited by Shannen Roberts.
Artwork by Divya Seshadri.
*Pseudonym name used for Sarah Smith for privacy.
Divya Seshadri (she/her) is an Indian feminist, currently living and working out of Austin, TX, fighting one stigma at a time.
See her posts here.
Shannen Roberts (she/her) is the Peruvian-American, founding editor-in-chief of The Strange is Beautiful, musician and yogi.
Learn more about her here.