perfectionism… kick it to the curb!

How often do you plan to achieve something but then struggle to start? You may be very capable of doing it well and completing it. Perhaps you’re even excited about it. Maybe it’s something creative. Or maybe it’s an assignment on nuclear fusion, or designing a spreadsheet. It could be installing a new bathroom in someone’s house, or cooking a meal for guests.

The job role I had before I went on maternity leave the first time around was MIS and Quality Analyst. Or you could say: “Excel and Data Nerd”. I gathered statistics about the organisation I worked for and created reports comparing and contrasting the results. Well, I enjoyed it… Each to their own and all that.

When I had to create spreadsheets there was that moment of sitting down to do it but immediately drawing a bit of a blank… Where do I start? Suddenly, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the task; a task I’ve done many times before. However, you don’t really hear of “Data Analyst’s block”, do you?

It was easy to push through that feeling because there were obvious components that would need to be included in my spreadsheet and a limited number of options with the structure. It’s like when I build things out of blocks or stickle bricks with my son. You know what you need to piece together to make a basic building structure and you do it one block at a time, knowing roughly where you’re headed. These column headings are needed, these are the row titles, this is where the data should be entered… Step by step it takes shape and seems more manageable, thus increasing my capacity and motivation to keep working on it.

But a lot of creative endeavours are not like that.

You have no idea where you’re headed until you get there. Not only did you not know you’d end up there, you had no idea you even wanted to end up there.

I think that’s why I like data and Excel and Administration. I need the balance of structure and a clear route ahead alongside my creative endeavours. Otherwise my brain will implode and I’ll be left rocking in a chair accomplishing nothing.

Why is starting something so damn difficult sometimes? What are we afraid of?

Human beings are peculiar entities. We set out to do something and often despite being well aware of our various imperfections, we have a deep desire that turns itself into an expectation, that we should and can produce the finished article – the Mona Lisa, pure and utter perfection… First time around.



I have some thoughts. About this specific question. Amongst others.

-Perhaps it is because we are made in the image of a perfect deity that creates perfect things first time around and they are freakin’ good. And He doesn’t even brag about it… and we can’t find any of this annoying.

-Or, perhaps in our culture, opinion-sharing and giving is so rife that it instils a very real fear about how we can’t just put something out there and know it won’t be slapped down rather vehemently by anyone whose background, tastes, levels of interest or lack of social awareness differs from one’s own. I was pondering this today thinking about how many creative endeavours get ‘reviewed’, but not just creative endeavours: products, people, holidays etc etc. It is hard in this world to not see yourself and what you may produce as something to be rated, or slated.

-Yet, maybe we are just a bit too proud sometimes. Constructive criticism need not snap our little hearts in two. If we are creating things to gain popularity then this is the inevitable result. Instead, do it for you. For the experience of the process not the acclaim of the finished result… it’s not as satisfying as you’d think (so I’m told).

Having said that, whom else feels like they have poured much of themselves into anything creative? I do. “Don’t take it so personally” some say, after they deliver a harsh critique. But, it is personal, I’m in that. I suppose there is a balance – less pride, more gracious critiques. Everybody wins.

I am reading this fantastic book about writing by Anne Lamott, it’s called Bird By Bird. It’s a book that intends to provide guidance on what you need to know to be a writer but it’s very real and takes a personal approach, as if she is sitting down with you over coffee and is just talking about her processes and experience. It’s also hilarious and where I learnt the word ‘excrementitious’.

Here is a passage from her chapter titled “Perfectionism”:

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. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it. Besides, perfectionism will ruin your writing [or whatever you’re creating], blocking inventiveness and playfulness and life force… Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground – you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. (pp. 28-9) (my parenthesis)

(Dad, I wish I’d read this earlier in life to give a defence when you spouted the I-can’t-remember-the-colour-of-your-bedroom-carpet jokes that weren’t really just jokes.)

What comes in between? After the dreaded beginning, this terrified staring into an abyss of possibilities, and before the awe-inspiring, richly imaginative and compelling beauty that is your finished work…

Well, probably a load of excrementitious trollop. Or ‘clutter and mess’.

Perfection demoralising

Nowadays, a big parenting trend is messy play. There are lots of articles about it (as well as every other parenting facet known to man) and how it helps the neurons in a kid’s brain spark even more vigorously and so on and so forth (here comes the science…kind of). My son goes to a Montessori Preschool that we chose because its approach is centred around learning through self-directed play.

Apparently, kids learn and develop best when they can be free-thinkers, make mistakes and make a big fat mess. Whilst messy play can leave us mums with heart palpitations and the fun job of changing everyone’s everything afterward, the benefits are obvious and shed some light on the kind of conditions we still need as creative adults.

Child is artist

What have you always wanted to do but haven’t because you’re writing it off for whatever reasons? What actually are those reasons? Can you whittle it down to fear of failure? Rampant perfectionism? Or perhaps you used to paint/sculpt/draw/sing/write/play/dance and seem to come up with a million and one reasons why you can’t get back into it?

To quote a famous sports brand…


Make a mess and after perhaps five pages (or equivalent) of mess you’ll find something that grabs your attention, your imagination will spark and ideas will flow into something original and cool.

It will be something you didn’t even realise you wanted to find.

Then… Bazinga! You’re off!

Let me know about it in the comments…




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      • Where I Write

        Ha ha! I wasn’t sure if you had an idea yourself… I would say the quote that I’ve included about how aiming for excellence motivates you but aiming for perfection is demoralising is helpful. I guess perfection is not attainable so for most, expecting it or striving for it leads to disappointment and stops us being productive. I do wholeheartedly believe in aiming high though, to do the best you can do, which will never be perfection but could be close to it 😉
        Thanks for commenting!

        Liked by 1 person

      • charliiandmeg

        Ahhhh!!! Great answer! I was born and raised by two perfectionists and I completely agree! It does spark motivation etc..but it also leads to disappointment haha ❤


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