Perfectionism is something I’ve struggled with for a long time — since I was old enough to be aware of judgment and criticism. You might even notice that I refer to myself as a “recovering perfectionist” in my bio. And I truly mean it. I realize it’s something I will continue to work on, probably forever.
The perfectionism trap—a villainous duo
Don’t get me wrong. Perfectionism isn’t all bad. It contributes a great deal to my success as a creative professional and business owner. But it also leads to recurring cycles of imposter syndrome, paralyzing self-doubt, risk aversion and burnout.
I’ve found that many of my creative peers are also perfectionists due to a combination of factors related to our mindset, standards, and desire for excellence in our work. Not to mention the fact our work (in itself) is rife with subjectivity.
Creativity is deeply personal, and we can become emotionally invested despite our best efforts not to. We pour our passion, time, and energy into projects, then submit them for critique. When we get “pat on the back” validation and approval, it’s intoxicating. And when we don’t … well, that’s when the self-doubt creeps back in.
So, what can we DO about it?
While perfectionism can be a driving force behind creative achievements, it’s important to strike a balance between striving for excellence and embracing the imperfect, often chaotic nature of the creative process.
Recognize Your Patterns
The first step in “recovery” is to become aware of perfectionistic tendencies. Pay attention to your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors surrounding your work. Notice the patterns of setting excessively high standards, being overly critical of yourself, and feeling anxious about making mistakes. By recognizing these patterns, you can intervene more quickly and redirect your mindset towards a healthier approach.
Challenge Your Inner Critic
This guy/gal fuels perfectionism by constantly pointing out your flaws and mistakes. And we all have one. Challenge this critical voice by questioning its validity. Ask yourself if the standards you set are realistic and necessary. Counter negative self-talk with reminders of your accomplishments and strengths. Practice self-compassion and treat yourself with kindness—like you would a friend.
Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
Unattainable goals can lead to a constant cycle of disappointment. It’s one thing to be ambitious. It’s another to be militant. Set realistic and achievable goals that align with your values and priorities. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Celebrate progress and acknowledge that perfection is not the ultimate measure of success.
Share your struggles with trusted friends, family members, or colleagues who can offer encouragement and a different perspective. Chances are, many of them have dealt with similar issues along their journey.
To my fellow perfectionists, take a deep breath and exhale the weight of unattainable standards. You’re not alone. Embrace the perfect imperfections that make your work yours. This doesn’t mean compromising excellence; it means allowing yourself room to grow, take risks, and find a healthier creative head-space.