Creative work is some of the most important work that we can do. It can also be the hardest. When you pour part of yourself into your work, you open yourself up to criticism. You can tie yourself in knots anticipating the feedback, critiques and suggestions of others. You can try for perfection, or you can put off the work until the time is right and you are in the space to get it done. In the long run, you are engaging in avoidance and sabotage. In no way do you escape the worst critic of all.
Perfectionism is an awesome thing in theory. It produces work with exceptional results, delivered well, with few if any errors. At least, that’s the promise. The reality is something altogether different. Perfectionism is frustrating, can be debilitating and is more often than not exhausting. Behind the striving for excellence is the anxiety of not quite being good enough, of not measuring up and clearing the bar. That has a number of negative consequences, not just for the perfectionist, but for those around them. Moving past it requires understanding first off where perfectionism comes from and why it exists.
How we think about work is challenging. And how we do that work is more challenging still. When the work we are doing is creative and uncertain—where we are the author and motivating force of what gets produced—success is often judged externally. We don’t have an effective, objective way of evaluating the quality of what we’ve done. Ultimately, we rely on the subjective assessment of those for whom we have done the work. That’s a hard thing to do, and many of us have developed work strategies that make it even harder.
All too often, we just show up in our work. We do what’s required, we fall back on old patterns, and we replicate what has worked for us in the past. That’s not bad, per se. Evolution wired us to do that, after all. At the same time, it’s not all that meaningful. And it very often doesn’t reconcile with what we know we’re truly capable of.
Our approach and attitudes toward perfection gets in the way of doing the work that we need, and the work that is value. Finding the optimal outcome of ‘good enough.’
When we are faced with large and uncertain projects, we often become entirely overwhelmed. And the larger the project, the more creative our forms of procrastination. Strategies to tackle the most important problems of all.