perfectionism is a beast

Many years ago, I started sanding the top of an old dining table that had belonged to my grandmother. My plan was to refinish it into something totally modern and cool. I had roommates at the time, and using a power sander in the dining room probably wasn’t the most thrilling thing to them. This was one of my first DIY projects and I was taking my time with it. That is, until one day my roommate, in an annoyed state, pointed out that I never finished anything and I wouldn’t be finishing that.

I was hurt by her comment because while I knew her point was valid, I didn’t want to be seen as someone who didn’t finish things. The truth is, I didn’t finish it. It was maybe too big of a project for me at the time, so I let it go. What she said stuck with me, though.

Recently, I’ve been exploring the idea of perfectionism. I didn’t think I was a perfectionist because I’ve actually tried to be really kind to myself in the past few years and have seriously taken the pressure off myself. Upon deeper thought, I’ve realized that my fear of not achieving perfection has actually been stopping me from doing many, many things. This fear has translated into stepping back, not sharing my thoughts, and not really doing the things I say I want to be doing.

On the other hand, healthy striving towards perfection has also helped me pull off incredible things. I’ve produced experiences for people that I never would have imagined possible. It’s been a thrill to be so invested in the positive outcome of a project. I actually miss and long for that feeling of utter commitment to a creative endeavor. There’s a time and a place for high standards and attention to detail. Sometimes it really is a joy and feels like flow. That’s when you run with it.

In an effort not to let perfectionism get in the way of everyday life, or hold me back from the things that bring me creative joy, I try to remember a few things:

Take small steps. I have to remind myself that I don’t need to get from zero to hero overnight. I am a crazy list maker and no item on my to-do list is too small. The satisfaction of completion reminds me that I’m not running in place and the momentum is still there.

Don’t get too attached to ideas. A big part of my design philosophy is to sketch rapidly and throw most of it away. It’s in that freedom from attachment that you manage to stumble upon the hidden gems of creative awesome.

Cultivate a creative routine. I try to write daily in my journal. If I don’t have time, I only write a few sentences instead of a few pages. It still counts. Make creative acts part of your daily routine, no matter how small.

Believe me, I haven’t figured out this perfectionism thing, but I’m working on it. The first step was becoming more aware of it. The rest is a day by day experiment.