You might have heard people say they are ‘perfectionists’ like it’s a badge of honour; and to them, it might be. After all, striving for perfection means they are taking action or being creative in the first place. However, what those same people don’t talk about is how stifling and exhausting aiming for perfection can be. The reality is in most cases, perfectionism will kill your creativity and here’s why.
Perfect looks different to everyone
For a start, perfect is subjective. What you deem to be perfect is probably imperfect to someone else. So, when you brand yourself a perfectionist, by whose standards are you judging your work: yours, your clients’ or the consumers’?
I’m a recovering perfectionist myself and it has taken a few years to value progress over perfection. I would sit on projects until circumstances were ideal or keep tweaking them until they were, what I deemed, perfect. However, this meant when I finally achieved something, it was much later than it could have been. Therefore, while my end product was perfect, I was then plagued by thoughts of what I could have achieved in the time I’d wasted trying to be perfect in the first place.
Last week, I was filming in London for an Open University course – something I would have never done had the production team not already seen videos I’d created myself. However, if I’d waited until everything was ‘just right’ to record my own material, I would still be waiting to this day and have subsequently lost a fantastic opportunity to promote myself and my brand. Not only would perfectionism have killed my creativity, but it could also have cost me business.
The truth about perfectionism and why it isn’t perfect
If you identify as a perfectionist then it might be useful to look at what being perfect actually looks like – after which, you might start to value progress like I eventually did.
- Perfectionism stops us from taking risks
- Perfectionism prevents us from challenging the ‘norm’.
- Perfectionism prevents us from adopting new methods or experimenting
- Perfectionism can be another word for procrastination
- Perfectionism inhibits us from achieving what we are truly capable of
- Perfectionism is a fear of making mistakes
- Perfectionism doesn’t make people happy
- Perfectionism means you will be forever waiting and never really achieving
When you read the above, is seeking perfection actually worth it? We should never fear making mistakes and if you do, it’s likely you have an inner critic who never lets up. But you absolutely must learn to ignore them; after all, mistakes are the lifeblood of learning and if we never learnt, we would never improve. You only progress through doing and taking action.
An exercise to help you move from perfect to progress
For perfectionists, self-worth is often tied to accomplishments and so they work harder to avoid negative evaluations from others. This in itself can lead to burnout so if you do identify as a perfectionist, here is an exercise to help you move away from your perfect ideals which are ultimately putting your mind and body at risk:
- Grab a piece of paper and write down what want to do.
- Write down everything that could happen if you do it.
- Now write down everything that would happen if you don’t do it.
- Review the negative results and evaluate if perfectionism could be the cause of these ‘don’ts. If it is, highlight them.
- Count the highlighted negative results.
You can now physically see the barrier perfectionism poses to success and so, while perfection might be a goal, it should never be the final product.
Instead, you need to enjoy the journey and the progressions you make on the way.