Perfection is Overrated

This is the time for New Year’s Resolutions, for raising the bar on our performance and creating a vision for the next 12 months that will help us up our game and improve. Between updating our strategic plans and recommitting to a more rigorous exercise regime, we’re looking at how to get better, faster, thinner. In all this hubbub over self-improvement, I thought I’d throw out an idea to help us all get through the year: “Perfection is overrated.”

Perfectionism is the hobgoblin of creativity. When we set out to create something, whether it’s a business, an article, a project or a design, we’re filled with the spirit of anything is possible. But then, our inner critic starts in on us–“It’s too big! It’s too small! It’s not good enough!” Ultimately we take that to mean that we’re not good enough, so we stop creating. This is the death knell of innovation and it stops a lot of would-be artists, inventors and business moguls-in-waiting from accomplishing their dreams.

There’s a tradition with quilt-makers (and a similar tradition with Navajo rug-makers) to build some imperfection into a quilt. The premise is that only God is perfect, so the flaw is a built-in reminder of our own humanity.  This is a good practice. Anne Lamott in her classic book on writing, Bird by Bird, recommends beginning any writing assignment with the title  (pardon the language, please) “Shitty First Draft.” That way, we diminish our expectation that whatever we’re creating has to be perfect on the first round, giving us the freedom to produce.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…” Ms. Lamott writes.

So while it’s good to aim for excellence in any endeavor, please let go of any aim for perfection this year. Create. Experiment. Make a mess and color outside the lines. Write that shitty first draft. And enjoy the process of creating your business, your career, your work of art, your soufflé, your year, with freedom and flair. There will be time enough for editing.

(Photo: Tumbling Blocks Quilt by Mrs. Ed Lantz, Elkhart, Indiana, 1910-1920, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY)

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