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The Truth Every Perfectionist Should Know

May 14th, 2018

 

Perfectionism will keep you poor.

~ Carla Coulson, photographer

 

“All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible,” wrote author William Faulkner. “In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off,” Faulker said. “I believe that all artists are possessed by this silly ambition: they want to do something no one else has done before. They want to create something that’s perfect. And they try, again and again, and they always fail. It seems to me that this is what truly motivates us. We keep on writing because nothing we write is good enough, or at least, as good as we think it should be. Or as good as we think it deserves to be.”

No story, no painting, no work of art is ever ‘finished.’ There’s always something to change, to add, to remove. Good art pulsates with living energy—just like we do. There’s always room for growth.

I know writers who have been “polishing” the same novel for tens of years. I was once one of them.

The challenge is knowing when to let go. Your task is to know when to stop editing and editing, reading and re-reading your work, over and over again.

The truth is if you overwork your creative project you can ruin its vibrancy, its essence, the energy that inspired you to create it in the first place. You run the risk of becoming paralyzed by perfection, becoming sick of your creation, and losing your passion.

Someone once said, “It’s like an itch you don’t have to scratch, because every time you read your story, you’ll always find something that needs to be changed. And if you feel like your story is perfect, just take a few weeks’ off and then read it again. Suddenly, it won’t feel as good as you previously thought.”

Adopt a new mantra—the good enough mantra. Remind yourself that your work is “good enough.” Know that you can always go back and improve it later. But for now, get things done, finish your work, and release your gifts and talents to the world.

Just like blowing bubbles, some projects will fly just for a few seconds, some will never get off the ground, and others will soar eternally towards the sky.

But working on the same project for much longer than is healthy is just as bad as starting a hundred different things and never finishing any of them.

I used to be afraid to let go of my work. I was terrified of what people might think of my books; I was worried they weren’t good enough.

I still care, but I care less. I think it was Leonardo da Vinci who said that those who don’t doubt their ability will never reach their heights.

We all want to be better, but I know from experience that advancement is made only by moving forward. We learn most from experience—not ruminating, overthinking, and over-perfecting.

If people like the books I write, great. If they don’t, then I know that I have done the best I can do right now.

I know from experience that I only get better at writing by writing a lot, not by editing the same project for two decades.

 

Mining for Gold

Done is better than striving for the impossible—perfect. Avoid over-working your projects—let your work go out into the world knowing it is as good as it can be right now.

Set a definite date for completion.

Adopt a growth mindset. Commit to continual improvement—in your new work and the projects that follow.

 

 

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