Fuck perfection. It’s hands down the most misunderstood concept of our time.
As a child, I used to be prideful of my perfectionism; holding myself to the highest of standards against an ocean of other kids who probably spent their childhoods not being a competitive little jerk (ha!)
I had a close friend who remains as one of the most multi-talented people I know. She was innately talented at every single subject—she dominated the sciences and the arts (like wtf? That was rare; the more common talents were specialized to one area. Some children have it all. I was always mediocre at best in science, despite how much I loved it). At every end-of-year awards assembly, she’d win a cup for Most Excellent Pupil. She understood new ideas quickly and was able to absorb information faster than any of our classmates.
However, she was paralyzingly crippled by a need to create perfect work, to the extent of stunting herself in the process. Now, keep in mind that said work usually came in the form of a grade 5 self-portrait in rainbow chalk, or a grade 6 story about a fictional adventure. As real of an unhealthy mental process as this was, you gotta smile at the vision of a 9 year old furiously scratching her head and furrowing her brow at her schoolwork as if it were the final proof of a new amendment to some piece of legislation. She would take an eternity on everything; stressed out over the most minute of details. Often, she’d completely miss deadlines, resulting in failed classes.
“Just turn in what you already have!” I urged her. “It’s better than nothing, and what you have is so good already.”
“Whatever,” she rolled her eyes. “I’d rather fail than get an average grade on this unfinished crap.”
Um, fo’real girl?
Fast forward to the present, where we’re all navigating our twenties as creatives. We’re practically swimming in the amount of perfectionism fetishizing that makes up the fabric of creative dogma. We hold ourselves to standards that are so high, they prevent us from taking any action at all. We even tell ourselves that it’s a good thing to chase perfection. Hey, we’re just seeking quality, after all.
As a result, few of us actually execute on our dreams. Too many ideas remain as just that: ideas. They remain fetus-like in our minds, unborn.
Can I be real with you for a moment? I’m really not that great of a writer, or photographer, or designer. It’s taken me many years to accept this fact, which may sound pathetic, but much of my childhood identity was based on being told I was good at this stuff.
Reveling in my mere above-averageness is freeing. It returns me to a time where I created just for the sake of it; for fun.
Can we please stop fetishizing perfectionism? Let’s fetishize consistency instead. Grit. Persistence. An ability to take in criticism. The typically unattractive, grey, yucky stuff. If you can show up—every single day—and put in work, even when you’re unmotivated, when you don’t feel like it, when you feel like shit: my admiration panties are dropping for you.
So what makes me okay with being not that great at present? Because I’ve shifted from a perfectionist mindset to a consistency mindset. Most people haven’t realized the necessity of mastery. Most people don’t intentionally practice a skill every single day. Most people don’t finish what they start. Even more people don’t even start.
I know I can, and will, outwork most people every single time, and in the long run, that’s what will guarantee me to be better.
We can’t control how the world will respond to our work, but we can control our response to theirs. In the 2% chance we’ll actually finish and release work we deem as perfect, the world will treat it the same: it’ll be criticized, analyzed, and most likely spat back out at you. (Laughing at how cynical this sounds, but I mean this in the most non-pessimistic way!) This is pretty much game over for the perfectionist’s fragile ego.
On the contrary, if you’re used to consistently producing work, your thicker skin is used to a critical response. It won’t rattle you to your very existential core because you know what comes with the territory. And you’ll be better off, every single time.
Here’s another confession: I’m only passionate about consistency because I’m naturally bad at it. My ENFP personality is unbelievably flighty, as psychology websites will describe. So don’t worry, we can struggle together.
I urge you to show up every single day for something you believe in and put in the work, even when it’s uncomfortable, and bleak, and shitty. Especially when it’s shitty.
Loved this! Really really needed to read this today. Thanks Jen x
Thanks so much Emily, I’m glad it was helpful <3