Plagued with that evil habit that holds sway over most millennials, I let my groggy eyes adjust to the brightness of the screen so that I could check my Facebook newsfeed. Skimming through the usual insipid combination of profile picture updates and not-always-funny-memes, my eyes fell on an article that almost instantly caught my attention. Titled ‘Anne Lamott on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity,’ even in that single glance, the article seemed to reiterate a personal axiom I’ve been championing for long – “Ditch Perfectionism.” Happy to find support in such a renowned writer, I opened the link, and delved into the rather lengthy read. I emerged a lot happier and smarter from the read. Now, let me tell you why.
Perfectionism is a problem many creative people grapple with. As espousers of thought and emotion, we believe that an immense burden rests on our shoulders; that of accurately placing perspectives and insights in front of people. We are scared of misunderstanding and of being misunderstood. We are also scared of putting out substandard work. In fact, mediocrity scares us the most. The fear reduces us to rewriting a single line a million times, or playing the same chord sequence over and over again. However, this desire to achieve perfection can end up having a crippling effect on the creator, where one becomes convinced that one has nothing to share because one’s creations just aren’t perfect. This is also one of the most common reasons for procrastinating. The mere thought of having to create something becomes daunting, because we feel that the something should necessarily be a ‘perfect something,’ and this causes us to push the task to “a better time.” But, as experience has thought us, there’s no such thing as “a better time,” for the only time we start working is when there is no time left and we end up scribbling our ideas in a haphazard, unsatisfactory manner. This ends in a bad end result which further reinforces our belief in our below average capabilities and the fact that our work will never be perfect. Vicious cycle, isn’t it?
So why the obsession with perfection? Why do we feel that our work should either have it all or not exist? Why are we so scared of the badly-composed first draft? Is it because of the strict edict, ‘Practice makes a man perfect,’ almost drilled into our heads in school? I remember having a friend who insisted on hemming in all her crayoned creations with a severe line of black. She felt it highlighted the borders, the boundaries beyond which her colours never escaped, thereby giving the picture an “appearance of perfection.” Looking back now, I wish I’d asked her why she always liked colouring within the lines. Would it really be that bad if she coloured outside the box a bit, especially if that petty transgression made her enjoy colouring more? Years after leaving school and my colouring books, I ask myself this question often; “Will it really be that bad if you coloured outside the box a bit?” The answer I always end up with is “not really,” and this pushes me to at least lay down the first brick.
To get over our obsession with perfection, we have to first change the way we feel about imperfection. Imperfection isn’t ugly or bad. It just shows that something is still in the making stage. And while there is room for improvement, it doesn’t mean that the work is devoid of the potential to become a masterpiece. Over time and with tweaks, the same terrible draft can turn into something unique, beautiful and inspiring. However, to reach this end, it is important that we start. Simply start.
A lot of celebrated writers seem to have the same opinion on perfectionism. This is what they have to say about it:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.” – Anne Lamott
“If your fidelity to perfection is too high, you never do anything.” – David Foster Wallace
“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali
“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” – Margaret Atwood
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”- Mark Twain
Well, so the next time you hold yourself back because you’re scared of creating something less than perfect, remember what there greats had to say. Also, say this to yourself, that “You must practice, even if it doesn’t make you perfect.”