Ironically, I’ve been trying to find the perfect way to write about perfectionism. I almost abandoned this topic for another one because I couldn’t figure out how to strike the perfect tone or approach it at the perfect angle.
This is why perfectionism is a crime. It prevents you from sharing. You hold back until it meets some standard that will make you comfortable. As Brené Brown put it, it’s a 20-ton shield. Perfectionism is less about excellence and more about minimizing pain.
It’s safe to assume that most highly sensitive people understand perfectionism perfectly. We’re prone to over thinking and try to avoid making mistakes in order to … avoid over thinking about those mistakes. Or at least I am prone to this. I don’t know if this is part of being a perfectionist but I’m very black and white in my thinking. There’s always one flawless, foolproof way of doing something (or at least I imagine there’s one) and if I can’t do it that way then I don’t do it at all. It’s hard for me to determine what is perfectionism and what’s just what I do and just how I operate. Maybe part of being a perfectionist is a kind of blindness about it.
Writer and fellow HSP Peter Messerschimdt wrote about how perfectionism, amongst other things, stopped him from blogging in a post on his resurrected blog, HSP Notes. He explained how he didn’t feel motivated to put in the work required to publish his writing, how he didn’t want to publish things that weren’t ‘good enough’ to meet his standards, and how he “(refuses) to let anyone (clients, editors, customers) have ‘half-assed garbage,’ even if they would be perfectly content with it. I have to be content with it.”
I completely understood Peter for having a personal standard for his writing. When I started my blog, I wanted whatever I posted to be such a complete reflection of who I was, my way of thinking, and my voice that it would be ready to be published on some fancy-schmancy respected website as-is. Unlike Peter, I love editing and polishing posts. I love honing sentences and trying to achieve clarity. That’s my idea of fun. The downside is the more work I put into perfecting my posts, the higher my expectations were. I wanted recognition and validation for my hard work.
Perfectionism is antithetical to blogging though. Blogging is about sharing. It’s about connecting with people. Or it should be. Perfectionism is more about the perfectionist and less about the work. A perfectionist blogger cares about herself first, the reader second.
Blogging became easier and more fun when I stopped thinking about writing the perfect post and started thinking in terms of ideas I could share that haven’t been shared. Those kind of ideas do not have to be perfect. They just need to be written.
Instead of trying to be perfect, I try not to be boring. Writing that is the result of trying to be perfect tends to be overwrought, soulless, and too long. I discovered that the posts I wrote quickly without any time spent rolling the ideas around my mind are the posts that have resonated the most with people. Raw and flawed.
Instead of trying to be perfect, I strive to be like my favorite bloggers who are prolific and popular not because they strive for perfection, but because they strive to be of value. Their commitment to their art and to sharing is perfect.
Whatever your art* is, aim to share what is good enough and share often. It will cure you of your perfectionism.
I’m going to give the last word to one of those bloggers I admire, Seth Godin, who sums it up perfectly:
Perfect doesn’t mean flawless. Perfect means it does exactly what I need it to do.
Any project that’s held up in revisions and meetings and general fear-based polishing is the victim of a crime. It’s a crime because you’re stealing that perfect work from a customer who will benefit from it. You’re holding back the good stuff from the people who need it, afraid of what the people who don’t will say.
Stop polishing and ship instead. Polished perfect isn’t better than perfect, it’s merely shinier. And late.
*Art, according to Seth Godin, is “the work of a human being – something a person does with generosity to touch someone else to make a change for the better.”