Perfectionist? Stop fooling yourself!


So you say you're a perfectionist? Well, I've got news for you: you're not. You are an imperfectionist! Think about it: don't you always find the things that are wrong in any situation? The "not good enough" things? In your work, in your life? So instead of looking for perfection, you are actually searching for anything that's NOT perfect about it. You are seeking imperfection. So how do you feel about your work like this? About yourself? Not too good? I wouldn't be surprised, because I've been there myself, and it's not a nice place to be. So is there something you can do about this? Well yes, but it requires a change in your outlook. Ready to have some fun with this? Read on...

But first, let us explore how we got to be "perfectionists" (or rather imperfectionists) in the first place. Like many people in a creative profession you might suffer from some anxiety about your work, because you are really revealing part of yourself with every assignment. You wonder if your work will be appreciated. That's natural. But things will go wrong if you equate your future (yet unknown!) results with your current self-esteem. And if you play the "what if...-game", things can get really nasty. So you better make your work the best it can be, right? Wrong! Because this is where you start looking for things that are "not good enough".

So how do you solve this?

As I said: you need to change your focus while working. You should focus on what is right with your work so far. And more important: you should feel good about this. Really GOOD! Then, if you find something in your work that's not yet as you want it to be, you can improve it and just continue feeling good about it because you just improved something! Your work just became even better. This is still true even if you're not yet completely satisfied with the solution yet. But as you are feeling good about allowing yourself to improve bits and pieces, the moment will come when you find the solution that's just right.

Sometimes you are forced into working this way by circumstances. Let me give you an example: a few years ago I was working on a large assignment. Being a "perfectionist", work was slow and cumbersome. I wasn't enjoying it as much as I normally would. To top things of, I made a very stupid mistake right before the deadline. Lost all the music I had already written down. This meant I had to almost start over, re-creating the music from memory. This was no joke: 20 minutes of music for 10 musicians and 6 singers.... So I worked for 48 hours straight in order to finish in time for first rehearsal. And I barely made it. But here's the moral of this story: when under such pressure, there is no time to pick nits, no time to search for things that are "not yet perfect". Actually, the focus was completely on the music itself.

So what happened was: I had to improve on notes and phrases as I entered them into the computer. Every block done felt like a victory: another step towards finishing the piece. I started to feel good about the work itself. And I started improving on my original ideas! So in the end the result turned out to be far better than the original work I'd done, because there simply was no time to be an IMperfectionist. Of course, it still took me a while to figure this out and get into the habit of feeling good about what I'm achieving, rather than looking for mistakes I made. And even today I sometimes fall back. But things have definitely improved, not least in my enjoyment of work. Plus, I also believe that by focusing on what's wrong, you're blocking the creative flow. If you can feel good about yourself while working, you will find ideas flow more easily (and thus improve your work even more).

So how about you? Have you fallen into the "perfectionism trap"? If you read this far, I'm guessing that at least a bit of it rings true.... So why not try this approach and see if your results improve? It sure did for me. It might take some time, because thinking in different ways is never easy, but just have some fun with "feeling good about what you accomplished" and you'll do just fine. Please let me know in the comments what your results are, I'd love to hear about them!

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