Perfectionism kills success

“Perfection does not exist. To understand this is the triumph of human intelligence; to expect to possess it is the most dangerous kind of madness.” Alfred de Musset

To get good at something you must put some work into it. To become good at being creative you must first create some things. To become a high-quality writer, you first must write something. To become a high-quality musician, you must play. Once started you must keep going so the quality improves. It’s not easy.

Unless you are a legitimate genius who can conjure fully formed high-quality work from thin air then you must acknowledge and accept the fact that success in any field of endeavour takes work. I don’t know about you but I must follow the hard work process.

The more work you put into something will lead to you creating more output. When you learn and grow based on the feedback for each output event your quality will increase. Being prolific coupled with improvement through feedback will eventually lead to success.

For inspiration to keep my productivity high I always think about one of my personal heroes, Mr Bob Dylan. Whether you like his work or not you have to accept that Bob Dylan has produced a colossal body of work. Has the work always hit the mark or met his personal standards? Probably not, but the point is he did it all anyway. In my opinion, he always grew better and more confident as a direct result of his prolific output.

Ira Glass has some wonderful views and advice on the topic and I would urge you to look at this YouTube video: Ira Glass on Creativity.

There is one sure fire killer of creative output and its name is perfection.

When you kill your output you severely, or even terminally, limit your chances of hitting your target.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you try to get things perfect before you release your work to the world? Well, I hate being the bearer of unwelcome news but here it is anyway. There is no such thing as perfect and no such state as perfection. You might as well try and catch smoke with a net. If you are trying to make something perfect you will fail. This post, for example, will never be perfect no matter how much I rewrite it. All I can reasonably do is the best work I can do then get it out there and into the world. I can do no more.

If something once created is not perfect, many people think other people will notice this and either ignore them or, possibly worse, criticise and hate them. This could not be more wrong or self-defeating for the aspiring creator of brilliance, which the poor perfectionist undoubtedly is.

Now, it is only right and proper that people strive to provide the best output they can for the intended recipients of their efforts. Notice that I said, “best output they can” and not “perfect output” because trying to get something perfect is morally laudable but ultimately completely misguided.

Here’s the thing. The perfectionist will never provide their intended recipients with anything at all because they never feel their work is perfect. It’s a vicious circle from which there is no escape. What do they fear? Is it a failure? Is it success perhaps? Do they really expect perfection in others? Do they really believe others expect it of them? There is something blocking them somewhere.

There is a law called “The Law of Diminishing Returns.” This states that beyond a certain point you get less and less improvement in something compared to the amount of effort applied to make that improvement. It will never reach 100% no matter how hard you try. Put more simply, if you get something as good as you reasonably can then more work will make only a slight difference. I’ve tried to illustrate this graphically below.

If you tend toward perfectionism be aware that the things you may see as potential defects and shortcomings won’t even be noticed by your audience. Remember, your audience is not perfect either.

If what you must give or say is valued and valuable; people will value it for its own sake and not because it is worked, edited or polished to near perfection. Pour your passion and love into your work and people will get it, value it and love it likewise.

Make things as good as you can, by any practicable and reasonable measure, then get your work out there. You can always improve it later if you want to. People will give you feedback if you just ask.

I know that I can always edit this article based on feedback but, if it is not being read by anyone because I haven’t published it, then it may as well never have been written at all.

What valuable work are you holding onto because it isn’t “perfect” enough for you?

Be prolific and get your work out there for everyone’s benefit.

 

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