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Get It Done
Overcoming Perfectionism : Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

Get It Done

Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist

By Sam Bennett

« Overcoming Perfectionism

Perfectionism would be so great...if only it worked.

Seriously: if you could work and work and think through every detail and really focus on achieving perfection and then have everything actually come out perfectly — that would be so great. But you can’t. It doesn’t work.

And you know what else would be cool? If you could achieve perfection in advance. You know — if you could think through every potential problem in advance and then start the project with the certainty that it was the perfect project. But you can’t. It doesn’t work.

Or what if, by hanging on to old criticisms about your past work, you could somehow make the work better? You know, someone praises you for some work you did in the past and you respond (either out loud or to yourself) by remembering every little thing that was wrong with it. If only remembering those things could somehow undo them, then the project could be magically revised to be perfect. But you can’t. It doesn’t work.

There’s only one way for perfectionism to work: you have to pretend you are looking at Earth from outer space and that you can see the whole continuum of time stretched out before you. If you could have the perspective of all time and space, then you could know that your work is perfect. Perfect in the way babies are perfect. Perfect in the way climbing into bed after a long day is perfect. Perfect in the way pinkie toes and eggs and autumn leaves are perfect.

Defining perfect as “what is or what is evolving” allows every little thing on Earth to be perfect. And that is a very evolved, very loving way to view life. I really recommend it. But I find that it’s tough to hang on to that perspective for more than a few moments at a time.

For years I resisted the word perfectionist. I thought that it sounded simplistic and anal-retentive. It reminded me of shallow, appearance-obsessed people running white gloves over lamp shades and endlessly rearranging boring long-stemmed red roses in cut-crystal vases.

Perfectionism sounded like a hobby for people who didn’t have anything better to do with their time.

But at the same time, I found myself exhibiting the following behaviors:

  • Endlessly thinking everything all the way through and not being able to stop.
  • Not really trusting anyone else to do things properly.
  • Feeling that if I couldn’t succeed, I probably shouldn’t try.
  • Being convinced that other people were constantly judging me and my work — and often finding me coming up short (i.e., feeling I was being graded).
  • Needing other people to notice and appreciate how hard I was working.
  • Being unwilling to start something unless I was pretty sure I could rely on the outcome.
  • Having unrealistic, if not impossible, expectations of myself.
  • Having unrealistic expectations of what I could accomplish in a given period.

Now, let me point out that many of the above behaviors are exhibited by almost everyone at one time or another, and that for artists, well, “achieving the impossible” is practically our favorite pastime. Some of the greatest works of all time were the result of some artist pouring jaw-dropping amounts of money, time, energy, and life force into a project everyone else thought was totally crazy. •

Next: A Few Words in Favor of Obsession »

Sam BennettThis article is from Get It Done by Sam Bennett. Copyright © 2014 by Samantha Bennett. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. More »

Updated 6/21/14