Death of a Perfectionist

“That would never work.”

“Actually, it would take too much work.”

“And you’d probably need a ton of pictures to do it right.”

“At least 20 hours of work.”

“I don’t have the time, better not even start.”

“This is crap—why did I even bother starting this?”

“I’ve spent 45 minutes on the first sentence—it’s never gonna happen.”

“To really tackle this topic, I’m gonna need to spend 2 or 3 hours researching—screw it.”

“If I really want to get into shape, I need like 2-3 hours a day, which I don’t have—no point in even starting.”

“Writing fiction is a hell of a hobby to take up at 30, and I’ll probably never be great at it—better not even try.”

“I only have time to post one or two things on social media tonight, and that’s just not good enough—forget it.”

“No point in writing an article if I don’t have 3 hours to work on it—I’ll just browse netflix…”

(I like to imagine at this point that the negative thoughts of my ego are written in a progressively smaller font until they fade from the page).

These Are My Thoughts, And They’ve Kept Me From Creating Anything Worthwhile For Years

I learned recently that there’s a noun that describes the kind of work I do—

I’m a creative, apparently.

I guess people in demolition are destructives?

But I digress.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently difficult about creating that sets it apart from sales or public speaking or truck driving or lawyering. With training, anyone can learn to do any of these things, and they all come with their own challenges.

I’m not unique, and neither is my job.

However, there’s something about creative work that pairs extraordinarily with perfectionism.

Perfectionism kills what could be amazing creations while they’re still in the cradle

A truck driver doesn’t look at a route and say, “Nope, I’ll never be able to take all those curves just right—not even gonna try.”

A sales person doesn’t look at a room full of prospects and think, “Whelp, I’ll never be able to sell to all of them. Better leave.”

A public speaker doesn’t say, “Well, this is no Gettysburg address—why even bother?”

Yet it’s so easy for me to say, “I could never do this article justice, and it’ll be crap otherwise, so I’m not even gonna try to write it.”

Or, to get halfway through and say, “See! It IS crap!”

And into the garbage it goes.

Perfectionism Kills Creations—And Rarely Actually Creates Something Perfect

My brain partners with romanticism and lies to me, telling me that perfect is possible if I just work hard enough.

The reality is I have never, EVER, created something perfect.

And a bigger dose of reality? NO ONE HAS!

Thank god the Wright Brothers didn’t wait until they invented a jet engine, or that Lincoln didn’t wait until he could free every single slave, or that the Founding Fathers didn’t wait until they could create a perfect republic.

The idea that somehow I’m going to come along and do something perfect when no one else has is absurd in the extreme.

Perfectionism kills what could be amazing creations while they’re still in the cradle.

Perfectionism also turns ideas that should have died long ago into shambling zombies, zombies that keep me from moving on to something fresh.

It also does this lovely thing where it fills me with guilt and shame when I publish something that doesn’t meet its exacting standards.

And never, not once, has perfectionism actually given me a perfect product.

It’s a character defect, and the more time I spend trying to kill it, the better of a creator I become (I think).

Because when the lie that nothing I create is good enough goes away, I might actually create something decent.

This Post Isn’t Perfect Either, But I’m Going To Publish It Anyway

I haven’t magically gotten rid of my perfectionism (or my fear, or my anger, or my rudeness, or my…).

But I know I took a huge step forward when I stopped acting like being a perfectionist was some sort of badge of honor, something that helped me.

I also know that doesn’t apply to everyone. Maybe your perfectionism does help you—I hope it does!

But I realize now that it does nothing for me but hold me back—maybe I’ve lost my perfectionism privileges.

When I fight perfectionism, I make a space for amazing, a space for awesome, a space for incredible, and a space for ok.

And sometimes, ok is just fine.

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