Perfectionism prevents us from starting and finishing meaningful work.
I have fought perfectionism my entire life, but I know I am not alone.
I have rewritten this sentence at least four times in the last thirty seconds before I could continue. Can you identify with my what I am saying?
You may also struggle in this area. You may have convinced yourself that your perfectionism is a good thing, that it pushes you to excellence, that it defines you. But deep down, like myself, you know that perfectionism has hurt you.
There is a cost that a perfectionist must pay for seeking perfection. The pursuit of perfection can prevent you from finishing projects, building on what you learned in the previous project, and being able to enjoy the work you have completed.
Perfectionism can prevent you from finishing projects.
The pursuit of perfection can keep us from completing our work. We procrastinate. We start and stop numerous projects. We are afraid to put our creations out into the world., or as Seth Godin states, “we are afraid to ship it.”
Incomplete works fill my desk and my garage. Occasionally, I run across them. Sometimes I see an obvious flaw and know why it is incomplete. But sometimes I can’t imagine why I did not finish the work. I pull it out and begin to work on it for a few moments and then quickly put it away.
I fear that the project will not be good enough. I fear what mistakes others may find when they look closely. But most importantly, I fear that others will see me as a failure. If I do succeed, I will have created a standard I will not be able to reach in the future.
Michael Law says that “At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.”
Sometimes fear will keep me from even starting a project.
Perfectionism can prevent you from building on what you learned from the previous project(s).
Everyone makes mistakes, and it is a part of the learning process. But if we are afraid to make mistakes, we will stop learning. We will become stagnant, and what we produce will be limited and derivative.
Knowing what I have failed to address in a topic can stop me dead in my tracks as a speaker and writer. I was discussing this with my friend Greg Holmes while I toured his art studio.
I was awestruck by the works that he had finished. Then he showed me a series of drawings that he was about to complete.
He said, “One article, one conversation, one work of art will not be enough. Themes will emerge. One work will build on another.”
What did he mean by, “One work will build on another”? I could see that there were differences in the drawings. But they held a common theme and each work built on the one that preceded it.
I slowly realized that if there were no original work, there would be no additional work.
I am so glad that Greg continued to explore his themes. (By the way, check his work out at Gregholmes-art.com.)
Perfectionism keeps us from improving. As you produce more, you will get better at your craft. Often your best work comes after years of practice and production.
Bill Gaither, a prolific songwriter with his wife Gloria, indicated that he threw away the first one hundred songs he wrote. But he learned something from each failure. He and his wife have written over 700 popular gospel songs, won eight Grammy awards, and earned the title of Gospel Music Association’s “Songwriter Of The Year” eight times.
We can learn from failure. Thomas Edison failed over 1,000 times before he succeeding in creating the light bulb.
The question is not whether we will fail, but are we willing to learn from our failures.
Perfectionism can prevent you from enjoying the work that you have completed.
Perfectionism tells you that nothing you ever do is good enough. That anything less than perfection is unacceptable. It can create enormous stress and anxiety.
Perfectionism hurries you onto the next project, and you can’t even stop to acknowledge the praise you have earned. You are already moving on to the next project, and you are already behind on the new project. And the cycle continues.
I love to read. I occasionally have found a misspelled word in a book. None of the errors I discovered detracted me from the overall message of the book.
One mistake, one perceived imperfection on your part, will not from the effectiveness of the work. You, and I, need to stop and smell the roses.
Call To Action
Will you let the pursuit of perfection keep you from completing meaningful work, learning from your mistakes, enjoying the results of what you accomplished? Or will you answer the call of your unfinished product and ship it?