Perfection. It’s an Illusion.

The best part of coaching creatives is I have the privilege of talking to designers every day.

I hear many designers talk about passion projects that never get done and about believing things need to be done right or not at all. Designers focus on producing excellent work for clients and feel frustrated when they do not complete their own passion projects that are meaningful and important to their heart and soul.

I held onto the expectation that all my projects (both work and personal) be executed with precise detail— perfectionism at all costs! 🙂 In my mind, things were never really done perfectly and I often felt disappointed or upset.

Does this sound familiar?

As designers, we often carry around perfectionist tendencies.

“I need to do everything perfectly, or not at all.”

The trouble is, there’s no such thing as “perfect.” Perfection is an illusion because perfect doesn’t exist.

Perfectionism is a dislike for anything less than perfection.

A perfectionist is “a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”

The mindset of perfectionism

Expecting perfection produces feelings of anxiety, stress, judgment, low-self-confidence and loads of self-criticism.

In the Psychology Today article “How to Overcome Your Perfectionist Tendencies”:

“Perfectionist tendencies lead us to engage in a comparing mindset, where we rate or grade ourselves in comparison to others in almost everything we do. And you know what happens then: we almost always come up short in our estimation.”

These feelings led to a lack of joy in most any project but also to avoidance and procrastination. You’d rather not do it than to do it poorly.

The result is that perfectionism often results in things not getting done, like the passion projects that are most important to you.

Here’s an example of how the mind works:

Circumstance – Your passion projects
Thought – “I need to do everything perfectly, or not at all.”
Feeling – Anxiety
Action – You procrastinate and don’t work on side projects
Result  – You don’t get things done.

The fix?

Overcoming perfectionism

Basically, the idea is to produce a new thought. “I need to do everything perfectly, or not at all,” is a thought that does not serve you well and produces the result of not getting things done.

Since this is not your intention, working towards a thought that will produce the intended result of getting things done. “I’m going to work on my side project and see what happens.”

Other strategies are to produce B- work. Rather than striving for A+ work at all times, allow yourself to do the work with an above average result rather than outstanding. (For those designers who prototype, see it as the first iteration of the project!)

Excellence and perfectionism are two different things

Excellence is doing the best you can do. The operative word here is doing. Perfectionism so often leads to inaction or to no progress.

As designers, our client projects are not done perfectly. With client work, constraints and compromises (plenty of them!) play a role in the completion of a project. We do excellent work in the timeframe allotted for the project.

At work, obsessing over perfection will block you from getting anything done. And let’s face it, project deadlines are what keep perfectionism from getting out of control.

Setting time constraints

Client work gets done because it has a timeline with a specified deadline. Rather than allowing the tasks for your passion project all the time you need, give yourself a time constraint.

“I have three hours on Sunday to work on completing “x” and I will complete it in that amount of time.” Sticking to a schedule can really help you get things done. And watch your thoughts because your mind will want to tell you that you need more time! 🙂

Is perfectionism preventing you from reaching your goals?

I know what it’s like when perfectionism gets in the way. We can work through it!  Schedule a mini session with me to talk over how we can start working together.


Author: Jamie Cavanaugh

Jamie Cavanaugh is a Certified Life Coach, Educator, Interaction Designer, and Writer.

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