Perfectionism Is Killing Your Passion

I’m here to say something that might be a little unpopular. And honestly, it might not be what you expect to hear from me, what with my “do more, be better” ideology. But it needs to be said. Stop trying to make everything you do perfect. Stop thinking “I just need one more week to make this better.” and “If I put in another few hours, it’ll be okay.” and “I saw so-and-so do this better.” Just stop – for your own sake. Your perfectionism is hurting you.

Let’s say you’re working on a project – not hard to believe, we’re busy people – and it’s something that you love. This project, whatever it may be, is the sort of thing that makes your heart sing. But you also just can’t seem to get it done. It’s never quite good enough, never up to your exact standards, you know in your heart of hearts that you could do even better if you just don’t let up, not quite yet. So you just keep working – you’re hustling, you’re busy, you’re a boss, you’re super productive, it’s awesome.

It’s not awesome.

Because that project that you love? It’s never going to see the light of day, and that heart-singing feeling that it gives you is going to fade out eventually. Where does that leave you? With a complicated, detail-laden project that you just can’t seem to care about like you used to.

Why Perfectionism Is Killing Your Passion

Perfectionism is only as helpful as it is useful, and it's easy to get carried away. The question is - what are you going to do about it?

Imagine your project: complete and perfect. It’s everything you ever dreamed of, and it’s so rewarding to think about, you just can’t bring yourself to do anything less.

This is the danger of perfectionism. When you spend your time imagining and planning the perfect goal, you never have to put in any work – it’s easy to dream of success, and hard to achieve it. And maybe more potent than that, you never have to fail. If you focus on a flawless end result to the point of obsession, that fear of failure (we all feel it, trust me!) starts to get stronger and stronger. Suddenly, failing becomes unthinkable – but the very real possibility of it will keep holding you back.

When working on things is hard and the possibility of failing is terrifying – which is always – it feels best to take refuge in your perfectionism. You don’t have to try, you don’t have to fail, you don’t have to do anything at all, really, except imagine perfect outcome after perfect outcome – which is toxic. After you’ve imagined all these amazing endings to your story, how could you possibly settle for anything less?

Perfectionism Is Advanced-Level Procrastination

Perfectionists procrastinating sounds sort of like an oxymoron. But it’s not. Perfectionists, I would argue, are some of the most notorious procrastinators out there. The perfectionist thinks “I could do this even better if I just ______” and waits. And even if they fill in that blank, they’re probably already thought of another way to improve. Perfectionists also procrastinate because they don’t have the time or skill to meet their own standards.

Perfectionists – and believe me, I’m one of them – just want to feel ready before they start on something. We believe that if we’re ready, we won’t fail, and we will achieve that perfection we’ve been dreaming of. But a very smart (and very funny) lady disagrees:

Great people do things before they're ready, they do things before they know they can do it - Amy Poehler

 

That’s right. You don’t achieve by waiting until you’re good at something, you get good by starting and not giving up. This seems like such common-sense advice but we’re always forgetting it. As much as we know we have to try new things, perfectionism and procrastination feel safer. They’re comfortable places to be. You can blame your failures on not trying, instead of not being good enough.

So, if you’re looking for some sort of sign from the universe to stop waiting, this is it. And if you’re looking for permission to just forge ahead, you have mine. But you don’t need anyone’s permission or blessing, not really. If you’re passionate about something, stop overthinking it and go for it.

If you have a concrete goal, with a clear end date, that will significantly improve your ability to do whatever it is you want to do, maybe, maybe you can wait. But most of the time, waiting for something that will “help” is just an excuse to not start – keep that in mind every time you put off a task.

Oh, and by the way?

Perfection isn’t real.

You don’t seem surprised. This is another one of those oft-repeated bits of wisdom that we tend to forget. But really – people just aren’t 100% satisfied with their work. The better you get at something, the higher your standards get, and the more you push yourself. Success is a line in the sand ten feet ahead of us, and it moves every time we do. You can be happy without catching the ghost that is success, but you’re never going to be done learning or growing.

Oh, and if your basis for thinking someone is successful is “They look so successful and happy on the Internet!” I’ve got some news for you. It’s super-easy to fake success, happiness, or wealth online. As a matter of fact, most people do it without even realizing it.

We all have that one Facebook friend that has to publish the details of all their medical woes, breakups, and bad days. But if you put them aside for a second, what else do you see on your feeds? People telling jokes, celebrating successes, and offering advice. We all want to put our best faces forward, so we tend to keep back the more embarrassing or disappointing stories, unless we’re looking for sympathy.

What people put online is a representation of their lives, an image. And we’re hard-wired to see the best parts of those images and compare them to our lives, like so:

Sure, this desk looks perfect - but could you work there?

Look at this workspace! So clean and organized! Every time I see a picture like this, I glance guiltily at my desk, which is covered in too many potted plants to actually be useful. Gosh, I wish my desk looked like this.

I mean, it’s gorgeous.

But, uh, why is his watch just sitting there? How far away is his monitor from his keyboard? Is his coffee really so cold that he doesn’t have to use the handle of his mug? What are the odds that this guy actually did any work at this desk?

Slim to none. This desk wasn’t set up to be useful, it was set up to be pretty. For all we know, this picture was taken in a studio by a hand model. Or it was taken in this guy’s studio apartment, after he pulled all his laundry off his desk and scooted it closer to the window.

I can’t think of a single person whose workspace looks like this when they’re actually working, and even if it did – what does that do to your life? The organization of your desk, perfection of your outfits, match of your font choices, or whatever other tiny details you’re obsessing over – they don’t actually define whether you’re improving or not.

So what do we do about it?

Do me a favor this week. Don’t be perfect. Be a little messy. Try something new. Something that might not work. Get back in touch with that thing you love by actually doing it. Because here’s a confessional: I wrote this post three times and scrapped it twice before realizing how ironic it was to be a perfectionist about this post, in particular. I’m about to hit publish, and spoiler alert – it feels damn good.

  • I feel that! My best friend and roommate (when I started LBTL) is/was an incredibly successful blogger, and it was so intimidating. Embarrassingly enough, a LOT of my early posts sound pretty much just like hers. Honestly, though, I’m happiest when I’m writing in my own voice and doing my own thing. Go for it, girl! You’re only going to develop a strong voice and sense of self once you get going!

  • Danitra Marie

    I have this exact problem. I have had a blog for 3+ years and I have less than 10 posts published and I have around 50+ in my drafts because I just can’t seem to make the post sound how I want it or I compare it to others blogs. Why oh why!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • It really is! But in the end, I think too much perfectionism is selling yourself the shortest of all!

  • Oh man, that would drive me crazy! I feel like, especially in academia, you should be aiming for learning something, not making a perfect imitation of what’s already been done! No one ever learned anything by following all the rules…

  • Adriana

    I love this! It’s really hard to try and not sell yourself short sometimes, wanting to be perfect is a difficult thing!

  • I love this! I have this professor that throws around the word “perfect” way too often, and it’s so annoying. He doesn’t seem to realize that perfect just isn’t possible anywhere, let alone an academic setting!

  • It really is, but both of them are worth cutting out, because you’re totally right – it feels a lot better!

  • Ugh, it’s the WORST when it comes to creativity. It’s hard to make something amazing when you’re hyperfocused on tiny details!

  • It seems so simple, but it really is so easy to forget!

  • I don’t know if I would call myself a perfectionist, but I’m definitely a procrastinator and that seems to hurt me just as much! It takes me so long to get started on something but when I don’t procrastinate, I always feel so much better. It’s such a hard habit to break as I’m sure perfectionism is as well!

    Kayla | kaylablogs.com

  • This was a good reminder to all us perfectionists. I didn’t realize I was one until just recently, and I totally agree it kills my creativity sometimes!

    Nicole // Chronicling Home

  • Love this! As a fellow perfectionist, I definitely struggle with this but have learned to get anything done, you just have to do it!

  • Right!? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stressed myself out over little details no one else would notice. Good to know I’m not alone in it, though!

  • It really can!

  • No kidding! Thanks, girl!

  • Same! Half my motivation for this post was to give myself a kick in the butt to just GET IT OUT THERE. We’re never going to get better if we don’t try! What’s your project, if you don’t mind sharing?

  • We really are so caught up in how we’re “supposed” to succeed that we get tunnel vision sometimes!

    And thanks! I’m always so jealous of people’s perfect flat lays and pretty desks, but stopping to think about how much work goes into those pictures really helps.

  • Thanks, girl!

  • I feel this! It’s so simple, but so hard to keep in mind when you’re caught up in it!

  • Yeah, that’s one way to shake up your routine! I’m pretty Type B, honestly, and it’s so easy to get caught up thinking “the other half” is living a better life!

  • So easy to get caught up in tiny details!

  • I definitely don’t either, hahahaha…

  • Exactly! It’s so easy to get caught up thinking about how we could do better, than we never “do” in the first place!

  • I am too, girl! But we get more done when we, uh, actually do things, so it’s best to just let it go!

  • This is all so true. It takes me forever to get things done sometimes because I see a tiny little mistake and I HAVE to fix it!

  • Ashley

    Such a great read!! I’ve definitely fallen in to the trap of perfection, and this is such a good reminder to avoid it as it can definitely kill your passion!

    xo Ashley

  • Kayleigh

    This is such an eye opening post! I find that it really does kill your passion if you’re trying to be so perfect all of the time
    http://www.kayleighskloset.com

  • Absolutely agree. And I suffer from this. I have been putting off a project that I really want to launch for some time now. It is never going to be perfect, but it can still be amazing. I can’t help people if I don’t get it out.

  • Kelsey Sleek

    This was such a good read!! I feel especially as millennials in our society, we all strive for perfection because we THINK that’s the only way to make it (when it’s really far from reality!!).

    I loved how you took that picture and diseccted everything about it. It’s was eye opening and a reminder not everything is always how it seems.

    Great job, friend!!

    XOXO, Kelsey

  • Sofi Penton

    This is really awesome! so happy about this post (:

  • Such a great message in this post! I’ve truly been trying to work on not being so much of a perfectionist and realizing that it actually slows me down rather than it making me more productive.

    X,
    Cristina
    cristinawashere.com

  • Love this sentiment! I grew up a rigid, Type A perfectionist, and finally jumped out of my comfort zone when I moved to Australia after graduating.

  • This is such a great post. I can personally say I am not a perfectionist but do like things done a certain way. I always try to the best at everything I can but don’t stress the small things.
    Marly
    http://www.GirlyLove.org

  • Kate Cogsworthy

    Perfectionism is the best form of procrastination – if you know it’ll never be perfect, why even start? Not that I do this. *ahem*

  • Thank you so much for sharing this, it really got me thinking & I’m sure this will be the case for other people too. Actually nothing is perfect & nothing will ever be so trying to strive for perfectionism really is a waste of time – it doesn’t exist so we’ll never be able to actually reach it.

    Sara / AboutLittleThiings

  • I am so guilty of letting my perfectionists habits get in the way.I love this and am going to work on actually doing and not procrastinating.

    Mikayla | A Seersucker State of Mind.