Writers don’t always recognize the grip of perfectionism when caught in its vise. But perfectionism is a wicked master that keeps us from achieving our true potential.
I should know. I struggle with perfectionism too.
Perfectionism is a Coping Mechanism
I learned to be a perfectionist as a way to keep myself safe. If I did something correctly (as evaluated by my family), I was praised and validated. If I did something incorrectly, I was critiqued. That critiquing resulted in a lot of shame for me. Shame that I wasn’t good enough, that I wasn’t measuring up. There was an implication I’d embarrassed my family with my error (even if it was something as simple as arranging crackers inartistically). If ever I objected to taking part in something aesthetic, I was told, “but you’re so creative.” So I would comply out of sense of obligation and guilt. And then when if or when my creativity didn’t measure up, I would go deeper and deeper into hiding and shame. And yet at the same time, I loved (and love) being creative. Such a trap!
So many writers have similarly intricate sets of creative wounds, and perfectionism as a coping strategy is the result.
Perfectionism Endangers Excellence
Either do it perfectly, or don’t do it at all.
Perfectionism tells us there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. To do anything. Perfectionism doesn’t allow for mistakes or failure. But those so-called “failures” and “mistakes” are where the greatest breakthroughs and innovations happen. We’ve seen this through history, science, and technology. The path to success is rarely a straight line.
When we court perfection, we endanger our own brilliance, excellence, discovery, and evolution.
Perfectionism Lies to You
Interestingly, writers who are perfectionists will often self-describe as being “lazy.”
Perfectionism says you aren’t good enough, you aren’t trying hard enough, and concludes that you must be lazy or you would be working harder. And in fact, when you procrastinate on taking creative action, you might even look lazy. But that is a lie.
The real reason you are procrastinating is that you are afraid you will not be able to do your work perfectly, so it’s safer not to do it at all.
You are not lazy, you are terrified.
These “lazy” writers are also often the same writers with intense fantasies of landing on bestseller lists and high achievement.
Perfectionism also lures you into daydreams of massive success. Awards, recognition, fame. But rather than being motivating, these visions are also paralyzing, because just as before, you are afraid you will not be able to achieve this high level of success, so it’s safer not to try at all.
Perfectionism likes black and white extremes. In perfectionism’s eyes, you’re either a massive failure or a massive success.
Perfectionism is lying to you.
Write Because You Love It
What if you were just you? Being your excellent, awesome self? Showing up, doing your work, writing because you love it, because you’re called to it, not out of fear of blowing it or the hope of making it big?
Instead of striving for perfection, strive for excellence through action. Allow yourself to fall, and get back up, over and over again.
You can watch me chatting about perfectionism and productivity with Deborah Hurwitz in my upcoming interview for her free Productivity for Perfectionist’s Virtual Summit coming up April 4 to 23. Find out more and register here.*