This article is about a 5-minute read
You did it again. You let fear creep in and push you further and further away from finishing your project. You’re sad because you had so many high hopes for this idea, but you can’t seem to get it right. Then by the end, you feel defeated and ready to give up.
Luckily, you’re not alone. All creatives experience this perfection trap sometime in their career, whether they’ve been in the industry for ten years or ten minutes. I understand you want your work to be the very best it can be, but living up to an unrealistic expectation of perfection will only keep you from moving forward.
When you learn to see the warning signs, you can begin to discover new ways to stop trying to be perfect so you can start reaching your creative goals.
I want you to strive for artistic excellence, but don’t confuse it with perfection, because perfection is impossible. Excellence, although achievable, can only be reached if you consistently put out new work.
HOW YOU KNOW PERFECTION IS HURTING YOU
Just like any other problem, the first step to fixing it, is admitting you have an issue with perfection in the first place. Do you see yourself making these same three mistakes in your creative process?
Your environment needs to be perfect.
When inspiration strikes, you let your perfectionism give you an excuse to procrastinate. You use excuses like, “I can’t work till my office is clean,” or “I can’t draw without my favorite kind of pens and paper,” and put off doing work till everything is just “right.”
You over plan and under deliver.
You tend to over prepare when you get an idea for a project by spending too much time going down a rabbit hole of research and inspiration. By the time you're ready to start making something, you're burned out and never get to the fun part.
You just need to fix “one more thing.”
You’re so afraid of rejection and showing people your work that you convince yourself that just one more edit will make all the difference. Then you repeat this process over and over again, stalling your project, making it that much harder to finish and continue creating new work.
If you realize that you’re making excuses that are preventing you from accomplishing your goals, you know you have a problem. What kinds of excuses do you have that prevent you from finishing the projects you were once so excited to start? Write them down, and recognize them, so you won’t let your excuses defeat your creativity again.
HOW TO OVERCOME PERFECTIONISM
The key to staying relevant in any creative industry has more to do with consistency than quality. Your skills will grow ten times faster if you make 20 new things rather than spending a year trying to make one perfect thing. Excellence can only be achieved over time by embracing your mistakes and learning from them.
So next time you're feeling blocked, afraid, or paralyzed by perfection, try some of these tips I’ve learned along the way over my years of being a hand lettering artist.
Break the cycle by making things ugly on purpose
Often when I’m drawing, the first thing I make is the worst thing I’ve ever made. I’m not warmed up, and my creative juices are quite hitting the right side of my brain, no matter how much coffee I chug.
So instead of starting on a project with an endless loop of self-doubt, I begin by making something I know is ugly on purpose. That way I can get all my bad ideas out, so I can start making first-class art.
When in doubt, do something boring and repetitive
When you start to feel a creative block creeping in, rather than giving up, work on something productive that doesn't take much effort to create. This could be something like practicing circles, or straight lines. Or, if you're a hand lettering artist like me, you might fill an entire page with a single letter you’ve been struggling with.
Engaging your brain with an easy repetitive task can actually boost creativity. Just like how you get your best ideas while driving, or in the shower, sometimes you need a distraction to get your mind open.
Invite eyes on your work
That inner critic in your head is kind of an asshole. So get out of your own way by developing a small group of trusted colleagues to provide constructive criticism for your work. Don’t wait for the perfection that will never come, to get the confidence to show your designs. Start small with other creatives you know, to help build your self-esteem up before you post your work publicly.
Make a commitment to yourself and your crew
Use your community as a way to keep you accountable to your goals. Whether you check in weekly with a small group of peers, or actively show your progress on social media, make a commitment to finish the projects you start. Learn to work through the imperfections, to create a positive habit of getting things done. The more work you put out into the world, the better you’ll get.
Next time you’re feeling uneasy about your project, try these above tips to get you to the next step. Leave no project unfinished and give yourself permission to mess up so you can level up.
A REMINDER THAT “DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.”
I created a 5in sticker and 14in wall decal to remind myself and others to defeat perfectionism every day. So when I begin to doubt my work, I remember to push through the bad to get to the good, so that every new project is an opportunity to improve and grow my audience.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that high creative standards are always a good thing. All it will do is make your second guess yourself and put unwanted doubt into your work. So put your ego in check, stop trying to be perfect, and overcome your fear of failing by finally admitting to yourself that “done is better than perfect.”