How being a perfectionist can actually be a weakness

(and not just something you say in job interviews)

I’ll admit it: I like being a perfectionist. It’s a big part of who I am, especially when it comes to anything creative I do. This is where you’ll have to pretend it’s not a humble brag when I say I can never accept less than perfection from anything I do. Or when I say that I can’t be satisfied until whatever I’m making is exactly what I saw in my head (or better.) It’s something I have to “battle” every time I decide to create something. I have to fight the urge to throw out whatever I’ve been working hard on in the hopes that the next idea I have can be more fully realized.

The problem is–and for no explainable reason this has taken me a long time to realize–nothing I do will ever be “perfect”. It’s okay though! Nothing anyone does will ever be “perfect”. There is no such thing as perfection in movies, in writing, or in design. It’s a nice thought, but it doesn’t exist. So why does it still eat me up inside? Any time someone compliments something I’ve made–something that I’ve worked weeks, months, years on–I find myself tearing it apart, feeling the need to let him or her know every flaw and failure I had to settle with. I point out every scene where we only had time to do one take, and boy does it show. Oh, and did you notice that when the camera reverses on this shot, the light is a completely different orange. Isn’t that shot just the worst?

These flaws are going to exist. As long as I don’t give up, my failures should become less glaring and hopefully less frequent. “As long as I don’t give up.” That’s the important part, and it is in direct opposition of my perfectionism. I have to fight the voice in my head that tells me, “if you’re not going to do it right, don’t bother.” Because I’m not going to do it right; I’m going to make mistakes or run out of resources or have to hurry through something that needs more time or any number of other things that can and will go wrong. If the solution is to not even try, then I’ve truly failed and I will never grow as a filmmaker or writer or designer.

So, does that mean I should just strive to, what, do my best? Maybe, but that seems a little less inspiring of a goal. I absolutely believe you should pour everything into your art, but just “doing your best” lets you off the hook too easily. I haven’t found a replacement mindset yet, but at least I’m aware of needing to find one. Now, when I lie awake at night, chastising myself for falling short on my latest endeavor, I can at least tell the perfectionist part of my mind to go to sleep and leave me alone. For now.

By the way, did you notice how cheesy the opening paragraph of this blog post was? Wasn’t it just the worst? I should probably just erase this whole thing and figure out another blog post I can do. One that I can really write well. One that can be perfect.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.