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How to Deal With the Quest for Perfect

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How to Deal With the Quest for Perfect

“The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.” – George Orwell

I just had a conversation with a friend who has been working on her novel for 3 years. Part-time as a hobby. It was something she always wanted to do to explore another side of her creativity. She finally hired an editor and is struggling with the notes she is receiving. She feels overwhelmed and is wrestling with how to get to the finish line. What started off as a fun side project just for her is now blowing up as she seeks to get it right.

I am a (recovering) perfectionist. I like order and organization. I like to get things just right. I can’t watch my movie because all I see are the problems (especially the one typo I missed in the credits). I don’t write as often as I should because I want to make it matter. I agonize over what photos or articles to post on social networks. Mostly, I think about the image I portray.

And that’s the problem. We live in a new era. Where authenticity and transparency are cherished values. Except that it’s hard to be both a perfectionist and authentic sometimes. As my sister likes to remind me: “life is messy” (perhaps because she is the messy one).

Social networks took away the intermediaries. Today, we are all content creators. That’s a blessing and a curse. Without the middleman, everyone can push out their musings, post photos of their perfect (or imperfect lives) and connect to others like them. And we can do it in an instant, sometimes without a second thought. I see blog posts and articles with typos (I have an editor’s eye) yet no one seems to care. It’s about the now. There is so much information vying for our attention that we rarely have time to go back. There’s always something new in your feed or an email, text message etc. Out and done.

We’re also seeing a big move away from the need for physical perfection. There has been pushback from “real” women about the unrealistic messages delivered by both traditional and social media. While I’m lucky enough to still be a size 6, I too am trying to let go of my need to always look “put together” as my grandmother taught me.

I stayed away from sports and musical instruments because I couldn’t be the best or perfect. While I’m sure my family is grateful (I can’t hum a tune) it has prevented me from pursuing hobbies. I finally took up meditation a few years ago because I found a studio where I felt like I wasn’t being judged. I love my pilates classes because I stopped comparing myself to the pretzel next to me.

So how did I get here? And what can you do as you fight off the need to get everything just right?

Start with something small: If you want to make a movie or write a book, start with making short videos and writing blog posts. Put it out there. Get feedback. It’ll give you confidence and feel good when the response is positive. Baby steps.

Be real: People respond to vulnerability and to the truth. Don’t worry about being judged. We all fall down every once in a while and need support or confirmation. Even from strangers.

Know when it’s done: Don’t expect everything you put out to be a masterpiece. It took the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist John Doerr 10 years to write All the Light We Cannot See.Set deadlines and know when it’s good enough. No work of art is ever perfect.

Related: Being at the Right Place at the Right Time

Practice: I believe that with creative projects, more is better. You get better every time you try something new. If you’re focused on a singular pursuit you’re often limited by the box you’re in.

Don’t take every piece of feedback personally: Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. Remember that. Especially when people criticize your work. I only care about feedback from people whose opinions I respect. Remember the source. Don’t let the trolls get you down.

While this applies to creative projects, like writing and filmmaking, this also applies to business. If you have an idea, validate it first by starting small and getting advice from people you trust. And then just do it. It’s OK if you fail. As long as you set yourself up for success by doing the work.    

OK. I’m taking my own advice and pushing the “publish” button…

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