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
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:
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:
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.