Perfection is a trap.
Recently, I was haunted by the memory of a mass email I had to send at my last 9-5 job. I was on the finance team at an IT company and we were rolling out big changes to our billing system. To prepare, I wrote an email to inform our clients about the changes, and I proofed the sh*t out of that email. I read it at least 30 times–and then I made my boss read it, and then I read it again. I thought it needed it to be perfect.
If you know me at all, you are fully aware I am a worrier. I evaluate every single detail I can about a situation until I am too exhausted to take any sort of action. As I hovered over the send button on this email, my over-analysis paralysis was overwhelming.
What if there is a typo? Did I screw something up? Is this change going to upset people? Should I word this differently? Is it clear enough? How is this going to bite me in the ass?
Perfection paralyzed me.
All those thoughts, worries, and nervous sweats and so little action.
This situation is ridiculous. It was a single email with a limited audience, and I can’t help but laugh at myself now as I remember how anxious it made me. Right now, you might be wondering how this has anything to do with artistic perfection. Let me tell you, all of the anxious tendencies I had in an office setting transferred perfectly into my art business.
What does mental paralysis by perfection look like as an artist?
Many of us want to do our best when we work on our passion. It’s reasonable to worry about the quality of what you produce, but there are times when the goal of perfection will hold you back. Many many times.
Here are some examples of what artistic perfection paralysis can look like:
- Not moving on to the next work of art because you’re stuck on your current project.
- Not posting on social media, because you don’t have the right caption, photo, or hashtags.
- Not updating your following on events, sales, or new art.
- Not applying for an event, because you don’t think your work is good enough yet.
- Not connecting with other creators, because you don’t think you’re on their level.
- Not promoting yourself.
- Not making business cards, because you can’t find the right font.
- Not pricing your work, because you want the right price that will sell.
- Not launching an online store or website, because you need the right domain name.
My inaction often comes from my fear of not doing things the right way. The “perfect” way.
Perfection paralysis is a really simple formula. If you find yourself saying anything like: I can’t do X until I do Y. But Y also comes with its own barrier–then you might be trapped by perfection.
“I can’t create an online store until I take nice photos, and I can’t take nice photos until I find a better camera, and I can’t get a better camera until I sell a piece of art to have the money for new equipment, but I can’t sell a piece of art until I have an online store, and good online stores aren’t free either.”
Perfection paralysis. But think about this for a second–
Perfection is Bullsh*t
Unless you are making bridges, buildings, or medical devices, perfection is a waste of time. Mainly because perfection is subjective. Its definition is different for everyone.
The best example of the subjective nature of perfection I can think of involves food. Ever sit down with friends or family for dinner and have one person think a meal is too salty and then someone else liberally adds salt to their plate? Perfection is preference.
You need to redefine perfection.
Are you constantly stuck by your need to keep tweaking a project? Maybe one more brush stroke here, or extra shading there. How much time do you spend evaluating what can be changed on your art? Or how often do you do nothing at all because you think you need different tools to even get started?
Start thinking about perfection as “The best I could do in this situation given my skill set and available resources”.
If you want to start an online store, evaluate the resources you have available and where your skills are. Only have a smartphone camera and $5 in your checking account? Yeah, you can make a store with that. Sure, it may not fit your vision of perfection, but the goal is to get it done and move forward. End the perfection paralysis.
When you know you can do better, you still need to move on to the next project. You will continue to improve with each project you start and finish. If you never finish your current project and just keep tweaking and tweaking and tweaking and tweaking, you deny yourself the opportunity to improve. (Read: Don’t let your art be too precious.) If you ignore resources you currently have because you know there are better resources out there that you don’t have access to, you force yourself to stay still. No progress. No forward momentum.
When you are at the end of a project, as yourself: Is this the best you could do with your current skill set and resources? If yes, it’s perfect, move on to the next project.
No? Well, it’s not perfect, but you should still move on to the next project. Take the lessons you’ve learned from that piece of art and apply them to the next. There comes a time when you have to say “It’s good enough” and hit send.
Post that imperfect art on social media. Start that online store. Sign the corner of that piece you’ve been stuck on. Make business cards out of cardstock and your crappy printer, or paint a cute social media banner for customers to snap a picture of. Do what you can with your current skill set and resources today.
Does perfection ever hold you back? Do you have any tips for other creators on how to move forward? I’d love to hear from you!
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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.