Recently, someone asked me a question about a problem that many others have struggled with – the dreaded perfectionism syndrome.
Every time I get a new project at work, I feel anxious. It’s difficult for me to meet a deadline because I rarely think that my work is good enough to be finished. When it is finished, I usually get lots of compliments on it. How do I stop my idea of perfection from paralyzing me?
Dear Paralyzed by Perfectionism,
As you’ve found out for yourself, striving for perfection can be harmful to your health and goals. When you chase the elusive goal of perfection, the finish line remains out of reach and the journey becomes increasingly frustrating. Mistakes are catastrophic and failure is always imminent, threatening to pull you down.
It’s not easy to escape from perfection, especially today when airbrushing and filters take away the flaws while technology allows you to put your best self on display in social media. However, with all this perfection, it seems like there’s somewhat of an anti-perfection movement going on lately. Homemade goods and arts and crafts are gaining popularity because people are getting sick of the mass-produced, homogenous, perfectly consistent stuff they can buy in stores. More and more people are posting makeup free shots of themselves. People are shopping at secondhand stores to find unusual and interesting clothing.
I found out about a delicious concept called Wabi-sabi. Not delicious to eat but a delicious way to look at life and savor the beauty in your work. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept focused on finding beauty in things that are imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete so that you can release yourself from perfectionism’s suffocating grip.
If you’re struggling with perfectionism, the fear of failing or making mistakes can make it difficult to finish or even start working on projects. Learning to find beauty in your mistakes can help you move forward.
Before you begin, create a process for addressing mistakes. Reframe your mistakes in order to see them for what they truly are – an opportunity for learning and growth. After all, now that you’ve already gone through the trouble of finding out what not to do, you can focus on trying it a different way. Analyze the mistake and learn from it. What worked well? What didn’t work well? What will you do differently next time?
Beating yourself up over a mistake gives it way too much power over you. And ignoring the mistake means you’ll be likely to make the same mistake again. Instead, congratulate yourself for putting the effort in to find out what doesn’t work.
Start looking for beauty in the imperfect in different aspects of daily life in order to loosen perfection’s grip on you. If you revere perfection, you’ll be less likely to create something wonderful. The process of creating requires messy first drafts, mistakes, non-working inventions, and unidentifiable scribbles. Instead of sniffing disapprovingly at these acts of creativity because they’re not exactly what you expected them to be, embrace them because they’re part of the beautiful, yet imperfectly perfect creative process.