Meet Astrid Baumgardner: My authentic self and perfectionism

An introduction to my authentic self and perfectionism.

Welcome to my blog!

I am fascinated with the notion of authentic success and I am eager to hear how other people are able to be authentic AND be successful.  That’s what I love about being a coach:  my mission is to inspire and empower others to discover and live their authentic self.

Allow me to share something about my authentic self:  my struggle with perfectionism.  Overcoming this block was one of the most powerful things I have ever done to allow my authentic self to shine through.

I had a wonderful time this morning playing the piano.
Notice I said “played” and not “practiced”.  Then notice that I enjoyed myself. This is an astonishing statement coming from someone who has battled perfectionism her entire life.
Here is what perfectionism looks like:

“I have to work incredibly hard to get this just right”
so you toil away and cannot get to other things in your life that are important or enjoyable.


“What’s the point of starting?  It will never be perfect”

so you stay in bed or avoid your work/art/project and either throw it together in the last minute with unsatisfactory results or you never even do it and feel an incredible sense of let down.
Creativity is a gift from the universe. It’s mysterious and cannot be analyzed.  Why do I love playing the piano and why do you love writing or acting or devising creative solutions to business problems?  And where does that urge come from?  That’s why I believe so strongly that it is a gift that we are entrusted with and that we owe to ourselves and to the universe to honor and do something with.

It took me a long time to learn this lesson. The piano has been in my life since I was 5 years old.  I was talented but never felt good enough to make it my profession so it was one of those things that I did as a Type-A overachiever in high school and college, always working hard and doing well but not really enjoying it.  The teachers I had were all technically brilliant but their approach was “do as I say because I know better”.  Again, I did what they said and did fine but it did not feel very satisfying. I took a breather from the piano when I went to law school and launched my career as a lawyer in the big NYC law firms:  there was no time and besides, I was never going to be great at this so what was the point?

And then something in me drew me back to the music.  I bought my first piano, a tiny upright that barely fit into the entrance of my tiny NYC apartment.  I upgraded to a bigger, beautiful Steinway when my children begged for lessons and I too longed to go back.  And so, in between children, career evolution from lawyer in a big firm to lawyer in a French law firm to non-profit arts executive to non-profit arts consultant, household duties and a generally busy life in NYC, I diligently began studying again.  It was better this time because it was my choice, but the old habits did not die:  my poor husband had to endure hours of my obsessing over one measure until it was PERFECT, and by then, I was so exhausted that I would get up from the piano and vow to work even harder the next day, only to start the cycle again.

There is a pattern here that is undoubtedly familiar to anyone who has experienced perfectionism, whether it is in a law office, a music studio, a college dorm or anywhere else where you feel that you have to be your best or else…….Either you work yourself to the bone trying to get it right or you don’t even bother because it’s never going to be perfect.

To quote Dr. Phil:  How’s that working for you?
Not so well.

In my case, I loved music with a passion and I had certain gifts but I was unable to enjoy and share my gift.  I finally got it that going for perfection in my playing was not going to get me anything.  It was time for a new approach.  This time, action mode (my default way of achievement and one of my inner strengths) led me to find The Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron, a guide for blocked creatives that has been used by countless artists, lawyers, business people, students and anyone else who knows that he/she has a creative impulse.  The biggest takeaways for me:  in order to make good art, you first have to make bad art—or any art at all.  Just do it.  Banish the voice of perfectionism because it tells you that you are a failure.  And by not making your art, you are agreeing with that voice and depriving yourself of that which you love.

I started to play.  Slowly.  I began to enjoy moments of my playing.  I realized that I longed to know more about music.  Again, the universe responded.  I enrolled in an evening course at Juilliard and found an amazing teacher.  He was the first music teacher whose philosophy was that each student had a gift and that his role was to empower that gift.

At the same time, I was evolving in my career.  After a life-threatening illness nearly terminated my life, I discovered my life purpose:  to help others through difficult life transitions.  This revelation led me to life coaching which I embraced with a passion.  Here was something that I could do to help others and to use all of my knowledge and experience.  For the first time in my life, I felt fearless.  I pursued my new career relentlessly.  I was able to tap into stores of creativity.  And that translated into the piano.  Finally, I was able to sit down and play and honor my gift.  I did not care what others thought and I stopped being afraid.  I just played. And it was beautiful. And I am so grateful to be living in the moment with my creativity without the fear and the judgment.