I’ve always been into perfectionism and happy to define myself as a perfectionist.
In fact, perfectionism has been my driving force to learn and evolve.
But after all these years becoming more and more obsessed with details, I’ve reached a point where extreme perfectionism has become a burden. It has made me slow, insecure of my own work and afraid to move forward.
Here are some of my thoughts about fighting against perfectionism.
The Fallacy of Perfection
Perfection doesn’t exist. It’s like the horizon line. You move one step forward, and it moves as well. It’s unreachable. You can always find more ways to polish and refine something. The process never ends.
Also, as you move towards perfection, you learn new things and your previous idea of perfection becomes obsolete.
Perfection is a direction, not a destination.
Some Tips to Overcome Perfectionism
- Apply the 80/20 rule
Invest 20% of your time and effort on 80% of outcome, not the opposite. After a while, perfectionism is not useful anymore, and pursuing it will be unproductive and detrimental to the project itself.
This powerful and interesting rule is also known as the Pareto Principle: for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
- Be aware of the perfectionism trap
I have made this mistake numerous times: I get excited about something, I start working on it, investing hours and hours perfecting it, and then realize that I don’t need it. Improving and perfecting can eclipse the real purpose of creating something, so be careful not to lose the point.
- Don’t allow perfectionism to remove the personality
Sometimes perfectionism tends to make things cold and impersonal. Your personal characteristics are what makes you, you (even though you may think they are imperfections). Don’t try to get rid of them–they are your strengths.
- Establish realistic expectations
It’s easy to dream with the moon and think that’s the only acceptable outcome. Don’t allow perfectionism to set unrealistic expectations–it’s a recipe for failure (or even worse, a recipe for never finishing what you are working on). Instead, try to establish realistic expectations that you can accomplish, while still pushing yourself to excellence.
- Launch and improve it afterwards
If the project allows it (a personal digital project, your website, an ebook, etc.), just work on a viable first version (or minimum viable product) and launch it. You can keep improving and updating it.
An Inspiring Example
I don’t remember where I read this story first, but it has been in my mind since then. I read it whenever I feel trapped by perfectionism.
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.
All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.
Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work—and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
— Art & Fear. Ted Orland.
I’ve always preferred quality vs quantity, but I now realize it’s not always the smart choice, especially when it comes to creating or learning.
Perfectionism requires hard work and helps to develop judgment. The right amount of perfectionism makes you better because you constantly question and challenge yourself to improve.
But if you cross the line and become obsessed with perfectionism, you stop producing and you may end up not finishing anything. By focusing on production rather than perfection, you will likely yield better results in the end.
Perfectionism must be understood as a direction, not a destination.
As always, I would love to hear your comments!
PS: My online course Strategy & Business for Illustrators is now available for pre-order!