There is no such thing as perfection. Those who fall into the “perfection” trap will fall endlessly into the rabbit hole. You’ll just end up wasting time without getting anywhere.

Only the brightest, most sensitive, and intelligent people want to be perfect. It’s one of the reasons they don’t get started — because perfection stalls them.

When it comes to making art, some anxiety is to be expected. All too often, we strive to get everything right the first time around, which never works. Nothing takes us farther from creating our art.

As artists, when it comes to making our art, we are too concerned with perfecting it. It’s natural to want our art to be perfect, but that doesn’t make it perfect. For instance, every piece I write here, I want it to be perfect. It’s good to want it to be perfect. The thing is that starting with “perfect” does not lead to perfection. Starting with imperfection might lead towards perfection, but perfection is like that horizon that you see in the distance. The closer you get to it, the farther away it seems. Every piece I publish here, I consider it a draft or a work in progress. In that sense, I never finish my pieces — I abandon them. When I start out with being perfect, I’ll never get to perfect. When I write with making progress in mind, I’ll write something and I’ll ship. Real artists ship.

Perfection is never the goal, but progress is. In that sense, only progress can lead to perfection. Perfection cannot lead to progress. This is consistent with Explore, Evaluate, Execute. You start out with what you have in mind, and go on from there. When perfection becomes the starting point, it won’t take you anywhere. It simply doesn’t work. You can’t be creative and perfect at the same time. This violates the principle of Divergence and Convergence. Perfection also implies that you’re judging your work as you create it, which never works.

There are a few reasons why perfection doesn’t work:

  • When you strive for perfection, you’ll make more mistakes along the way, and it’ll take you longer to finish what you started.

  • Perfection doesn’t work because it runs contrary to the creative process. I covered this earlier in Divergence and Convergence.

  • Perfection stops us from starting projects and relationships because we’re not perfect; perfection stops us from finishing/shipping projects because they’re not perfect. Most of us worry about finishing things, though getting started consistently is the hard part. When we try to be perfect at the outset, it stalls us. Strive for excellence, not perfection (more on this below).

  • Perfection is a flaw disguised as control. It acts as a defense mechanism.

  • Perfection assumes things. It assumes knowing and being certain, and creativity is about being open and curious (divergence). Perfection assumes an answer (one answer), but there is no one answer; in fact, there are no right answers. That is why it’s art. It’s not about having the right answer. It’s about coming up with your own answer, and one that works best for you. Perfection assumes that you’re smarter than your audience because you know the rules, and this leaves no room for your audience to be involved.

Getting started can be hard when perfection governs your mind. How do you get started when perfection seems to stall you? How do you stop being perfect?

First, understand that you don’t have to be perfect and that you can be perfectly human. Only when you give yourself the permission to be imperfect can you create anything meaningful and worthwhile. This is consistent with the principle of Divergence and Convergence and with Explore, Evaluate, Execute.

Here are a few strategies for overcoming perfection and getting started:

  • Sometimes you have to jump in and just do it before you know what you’re doing. You need to be hands-on before the thinking kicks in, or you need to start making your art before you even know it. Only making art can help you get closer to what you might want. Only when you start making your art, does it become tangible. Once it’s tangible, then you can shape it into what you want.

  • Stop worrying about finishing things and focus on starting. When you focus on starting, finishing will take care of itself. As Woody Allen said, “80 percent of success is just showing up”. Show up and do the work; let the process of showing up to work determine the outcome of your work. There is no guarantee that you’ll get the fruits of your labor by doing the work, but one thing is certain — without hard work, there is no reward.

  • Focus on results. Have goals, then have systems in place to reach those goals. I suggest reading Goals and Systems.

  • Work with constraints. Deadlines are an example of a constraint. Contrary to popular belief, contraints don’t limit you, they liberate you. They help you narrow down your focus. They force you to go deep into your domain. Having constraints, for the lack of a better word, is good.

  • Remember that “done” is better than “perfect”. Stop spending hours tweaking details no one cares about. Move when you’re 80% ready and tweak those details along the way.

  • Write Morning Pages as a divergent exercise to think laterally and to let go of perfectionist tendencies. Get comfortable with divergence. It’s not a natural skill to possess after years of unwanted societal programming.

  • When you’re making your art, you’ll feel like a constant failure, which is normal. Unless you’re prepared to be wrong, you can never come up with anything original. That’s how you innovate. You need to be able to persevere through the failures in order to arrive at the end goal.

  • Creative process gives you the freedom to fail early rather than later. Getting early feedback is key. Test your ideas; that’s why companies launch products in beta, so they can learn from the customers using their products and use that feedback to improve their product. This is why design thinkers work directly with stakeholders in any given project. They learn from them, and use it to improve their solutions. Learn from feedback by using trial and error; mercilessly iterate an idea until it’s ready. Strive for progress, not perfection.

  • Break down a project into action steps that you can take. Instead of thinking about a project as big and important, think about how you can take one small step at a time.

  • The best time to move forward with something is before you’re ready. Most people wait too long to act (mostly out of fear). When you move before you’re ready, you’re intentionally making it difficult for yourself by having obstacles in your path. This way, you’re learning quickly and rising to the occasion instead of succumbing to it.

  • You don’t have to know the entire path; you just have to know the next step and course-correct accordingly. Like Indiana Jones, you need to take a leap of faith that the metaphorical floor will appear below your feet; all you need to do is to believe in yourself and take the next step.

  • Having high standards when you’re starting to create your art won’t help you. It’ll only hinder it and create unwanted anxiety.

  • Instead of trying to be perfect, focus on learning and getting better. Don’t be content with merely being good. If you’re not moving forward constantly, you’re moving back. There is no such thing as stagnating. And, it’s okay to fail as long as you keep making different mistakes.

  • When you finish one project, move on to the next. Until you free yourself creatively from your last project, you can’t move on to your next project. Stop chasing perfection in your work and move on to the next thing. As an example, as soon as I’m done writing a piece, I move on to the next one. This is how I “free” myself creatively from previous work.

  • Never let success of your past projects get to your head. Never take the failures of your past projects to heart. In other words, stop dwelling on the past and live in the present.

  • Instead of thinking about what you haven’t done, celebrate your small wins for things you have done. Avoid comparing yourself to others, which will never serve you. The best person to compare your performance is with your past self.

We want our art to be perfect. That means making it the best we can before we ship it. We must understand that at some point, we must be willing to let go and focus on doing the work while deferring judgement. Only doing that will bring us closer to making the art we envision.

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