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Perfectionism is a Myth: How to Expect More (or Less) From Yourself

Perfectionism can be both a blessing and a curse. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I’ve always struggled with doing tasks to the best of my ability. Whether it’s my art, my job, or work for my classes, I’ve never been satisfied submitting anything that doesn’t meet my minimum standards (which is quite high, may I add). As a creator, it’s especially been a struggle for me to make work that is able to be critiqued by other artists, let alone create something that I can say that I’m proud of. While I could blame my perfectionism on being a virgo, I know the issue is much deeper than what meets the surface. This relentless pursuit of flawlessness can often hinder progress and lead to overwhelming anxiety–something that prevents many people from reaching their potential. While getting over perfectionism is a process I’m still undergoing, my journey thus far has been fulfilling. Overcoming perfectionism is hard, but the thought processes I’ve incremented have substantially improved my ability to create and complete things that I consider accomplishments. The following are some of my tips for conquering perfectionism.

butterfly in wheat field

The Paralysis of Perfection

Perfectionism has a way of paralyzing us from taking action. The fear of not meeting our sky-high standards often prevents us from even starting a task. Whether it's an art project, work assignment, or academic endeavor, the weight of perfection hangs heavy on our shoulders, creating a paralyzing fear of failure. However, it's essential to recognize that perfectionism isn't simply an inherent trait, but rather a mindset that we can shift. When you acknowledged that perfectionism was a thought process, you took a significant step forward in conquering it.

Just Get Started

One of the most significant steps in overcoming perfectionism is to take that initial leap. Too often, we get trapped in the loop of seeking perfection and end up stalling before we even begin. But, perfection is an elusive goal, and focusing on it can hinder progress. Instead, we must shift our mindset to embrace progress over perfection. By simply starting the creative process, we allow ourselves the opportunity to learn and grow. The first brushstroke on a canvas, the opening sentence of an article, or the beginning of a project – all of these are vital steps on the path to accomplishment.

Taking that first step can be daunting, but it's crucial to remember that starting imperfectly is far better than not starting at all. As you take that leap, remind yourself that the creative journey is about growth, exploration, and evolution. Embrace the uncertainty and recognize that every endeavor, even those that begin shakily, lays the foundation for progress and achievement.

I’ve had my fair share of not starting projects because I believed that it had to be fully executed in my mind before starting. While sometimes successful, many of these projects have fallen through, not even having a chance to be physically realized. As I’ve grown more into myself and my creative process, I’ve learned that the worst outcome to a project is not getting started at all.  Sometimes nurturing a half-baked idea can lead to the greatest product. 

The Process Is Important

Shift your focus from fixating on the end result to cherishing the process itself. Embrace the journey, the learning curve, and the evolution of your work. Often, we're so consumed by the final outcome that we forget to appreciate the joy of creation. By placing emphasis on the process, we free ourselves from the overwhelming pressure of perfectionism.

The creative process is where you develop your skills, refine your ideas, and gain a deeper understanding of your craft. It's a series of moments that allow you to experiment, learn from mistakes, and iterate. Recognize that every step, every revision, and every mistake contributes to the final outcome. Embracing the process can lead to a more enjoyable and enriching creative experience.

Especially in my artistic projects, I’m desperate to see the final product. In a consumerist world, there’s so much emphasis placed on quantity without much room for mistake (or time, for that matter). What’s important to have in mind is that you are a person, not a machine. The process of creation is what makes our projects unique and worthwhile and is something that adds dimension to our projects. 

Embrace Mistakes and Realizations

One of the hallmark traits of perfectionism is the fear of making mistakes. But mistakes are not failures–they are opportunities for growth and improvement. Every mistake is a chance to gain new insights, refine your skills, and uncover hidden potential. Embrace the learning process that comes with making mistakes, and celebrate the realizations they bring.

Mistakes should not be viewed as evidence of inadequacy but as stepping stones towards excellence. They provide invaluable feedback on what works and what doesn't. Embrace a growth mindset, where you see mistakes as valuable lessons rather than personal shortcomings. By doing so, you'll become more resilient and open to exploring new possibilities.

In many aspects of life, I’m plagued by the possibility of mistakes. I’ve struggled with the fear that my work can have errors which has sometimes held me back from pursuing something further. What I’ve learned is to expect mistakes along the way and learn from them. Especially looking at mistakes through a timeframe (for example, questioning if you will remember and look at the mistake in a year) puts your fears into perspective and provides some much needed clarity.

Trial and Error: The Road to Excellence

No masterpiece is created without countless iterations and revisions. Even the most celebrated artists, writers, and professionals have undergone a series of trial and error before arriving at their best work. Give yourself the freedom to explore different ideas, experiment with techniques, and refine your craft. Each attempt brings you closer to excellence, and it's through this process of trial and error that you discover what truly works and what doesn't.

Embrace the iterative nature of the creative process. Rather than being discouraged by initial imperfections, view each iteration as an opportunity to enhance your work. Embrace the mindset of continuous improvement, where each version is a step forward, regardless of how small or large. By understanding that trial and error are inherent to the creative journey, you'll find the freedom to take risks and push the boundaries of your abilities.

Accepting Imperfection

Perfection is an unattainable ideal, but excellence is within reach. It's time to release the notion of absolute perfection and shift our focus to striving for excellence instead. Acknowledge that imperfection is a part of the creative process, and it adds uniqueness and authenticity to your work. Embrace your flaws, as they are an essential part of what makes your creations uniquely yours. Instead of aiming for an impossible standard, learn to appreciate the beauty and value of imperfections.

The pursuit of perfection can stifle creativity and prevent us from sharing our work with the world. Accepting imperfection doesn't mean lowering your standards; rather, it's about recognizing that being human means embracing imperfection. Embrace the quirks and idiosyncrasies that make your creations distinct. By letting go of the need for absolute perfection, you'll find greater freedom to experiment and innovate.

I recall a few valuable words said by a professor of mine in an art class. While discussing my progress on a piece, he asked about my thought process thus far. Already seeing I was displeased, I vocalized that the piece was not quite how I intended it to be and that I wished I hadn’t experimented as much. My professor expressed that he liked my experimentation and that it was better to incorporate new elements rather than playing it safe. While I look at the finished piece doubtfully, I’m proud that I was able to experiment with what I was uncomfortable with rather than working with my usual mediums. Though a piece without experimentation could’ve been a product I would be happier with, the lesson of shifting and expressing my creativity to make something new is something I wouldn’t have achieved if I hadn’t tried. 

Celebrate Progress, Not Perfection

It's crucial to recognize and celebrate the progress you make on your creative journey. Set realistic goals and appreciate the small victories along the way. Success is not solely defined by the final outcome but by the effort and growth invested in the process. Give yourself credit for the steps taken and the hurdles overcome. By celebrating progress, you shift the focus away from the unattainable pursuit of perfection and foster a more positive and encouraging creative environment.

Acknowledge that the path to excellence is marked by progress, not perfection. Each milestone achieved, every lesson learned, and each step forward deserves recognition. By focusing on progress, you build momentum and confidence in your abilities. Celebrating your achievements, no matter how small, reinforces a positive mindset and encourages you to keep pushing forward.

Keep creating, keep evolving, and most importantly, keep enjoying the beautiful and imperfect journey of self-expression. Whatever the project, your work will continue to shine brightly, not in spite of, but because of its imperfections. Like I’ve learned, embrace your creative endeavors with open arms, and you'll find that it's the imperfections that make your pursuits and your life truly remarkable. Embrace the imperfect, for within it lies the essence of your unique and extraordinary journey.