“My greatest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist, haha.” How many actual perfectionists have said this in job interviews before?
If only that was a joke. If only my fear of imperfection (an outgrowth of my OCD) didn’t cause me to procrastinate so much that I don’t get anything done in the first place.
It’s taken a lot of work over the years to try to kill the perfectionist inside me, but I’m definitely still a perfectionist, and I definitely am not joking when I tell annoying interviewers that this is a weakness.
Perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand. The perfectionist is the person who is so horrified by the prospect of something not being perfect that they don’t want to even start the process.
Here’s what perfectionism looks like in my head.
“That would never work.”
“Actually, it would take too much work.”
“And you’d probably need a ton of pictures to do it right.”
“At least 20 hours of work.”
“I don’t have the time. Better not even start.”
“This is crap—why did I even bother starting this?”
“I’ve spent 45 minutes on the first sentence—it’s never gonna happen.”
“To really tackle this topic, I’m gonna need to spend 2 or 3 hours researching—screw it.”
“If I really want to get into shape, I need like 2-3 hours a day, which I don’t have—no point in even starting.”
“Writing fiction is a hell of a hobby to take up at 30, and I’ll probably never be great at it—better not even try.”
“I only have time to post one or two things on social media tonight, and that’s just not good enough—forget it.”
“No point in writing an article if I don’t have 3 hours to work on it—I’ll just browse Netflix…”
Fear of Imperfection Kills the Perfectionist’s Creativity
My brain partners with romanticism and lies to me, telling me that perfect is possible if I just work hard enough.
The reality is I have never, ever created something perfect.
And a bigger dose of reality? No one has.
Thank god the Wright Brothers didn’t wait until they invented a jet engine, or that Lincoln didn’t wait until he could free every single slave, or that the Founding Fathers didn’t wait until they could create a perfect republic.
The idea that somehow I’m going to come along and do something perfect when no one else has is absurd in the extreme.
Perfectionism kills what could be amazing creations while they’re still in the cradle.
Perfectionism also turns ideas that should have died long ago into shambling zombies, zombies that keep me from moving on to something fresh.
It also does this lovely thing where it fills me with guilt and shame when I publish something that doesn’t meet its exacting standards.
Being a perfectionist is, ironically, a character defect, and the more time I spend trying to kill it, the better of a creator I become (I think).
Because when the lie that nothing I create is good enough goes away, I might actually create something decent.
And this goes so far beyond what we might think of as creative, like writing or painting or singing—it applies to every aspect of everyone’s lives.
Everything a human being does is creative after all. If something isn’t creative, we’ve got robots doing it.
A truck driver can be a perfectionist about how quickly they drove their route.
An attorney can be a perfectionist about how much time they spent on a case.
A doctor can certainly be a perfectionist, and let’s not even talk about how hard this must be for plastic surgeons (yikes).
Anyone can be a perfectionist about anything, but it’s impossible to be perfect.
Imagine if truck drivers refused to drive because they were worried they wouldn’t be fast enough.
Imagine if heart surgeons wouldn’t operate because they didn’t have a guaranteed 100% success rate.
Imagine how much poorer the world would be if perfectionists let their fears of imperfection get the best of them.
Procrastination Doesn’t Cure the Perfectionist
I haven’t magically gotten rid of my perfectionism.
But I know I took a huge step forward when I stopped acting like being a perfectionist was some sort of badge of honor, something that helped me, when I stopped procrastinating and started doing.
I also know that doesn’t apply to everyone. Maybe your perfectionism does help you—I hope it does.
But I realize now that it does nothing for me but hold me back—maybe I’ve lost my perfectionism privileges.
When I fight perfectionism, I make a space for amazing, a space for awesome, a space for incredible, and a space for ok.
And sometimes, okay is just fine.