The perils of perfection

Back at the beginning of the year, as part of my Creativity and Well-being Reading Project, I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a fun read, and although I rolled my eyes a bit at the quirky cuteness and the ‘aren’t I great’ tone of some of it, there was some really good food for thought. For all you tl:dr people, the message which resonated hugely with me, and that I’ve come back to again and again since finishing the book, is that doing art/creativity is too important to let fear of meeting an impossible standard get in your way.


Scary thought or what? Is done really better than good? Personally, driven by my unhealthy ingrained habit of perfectionism (aka ‘I must not fail’), I flinch at the thought… but take a minute, think about it. Here’s a bit more from Elizabeth Gilbert:

The great American novelist Robert Stone once joked that he possessed the two worst qualities imaginable in a writer: He was lazy, and he was a perfectionist. Indeed, those are the essential ingredients for torpor and misery, right there. If you want to live a contented creative life, you do not want to cultivate either one of those traits, trust me. What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.

It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death.

We don’t have time for perfect.

Ever give up on a project and consign it to the UFO pile because you were afraid of the next thing that needs to be done or because you can’t make a decision about the next step (which fabric…what colour… what next…)?  I’ve done this so so many times. I have boxes full of the ‘what next’ projects, if you need the evidence.

When I’ve worked on magazine projects I’ve sometimes been paralysed by indecision – afraid I would make a misstep and ‘ruin’ a whole project. The good thing, of course, when you’re writing for a magazine, you have to do something! Reflecting on my completed magazine projects and those awful anxious times, as doing CBT demands of me, I realise that, you know what, they turned out pretty much ok – some of them I really love, and I’m really proud of all of them.

So yes. Done is good.

I can definitely be a deeply-disciplined half-ass. Recently, I’ve adopted that as my aim every morning that I go into the studio… it makes me smile and that weight of ‘it’s got to be good’ lifts from my shoulders.

Here are some more thoughts that whizz round my mind for future reflection…

What if perfectionism is just something to hide behind?

  • What if fear of not being good enough stops me even getting started?
  • Should the process of creating become more important to me than the finished creative work?
  • Does fear of failure prevent risk-taking?
  • Is an obsession with good or perfect an obstacle to learning new skills?

Feel free to join our the Very Berry group for Creativity and Wellbeing – for reading ideas, reviews and a bit of discussion about stuff like this!

6 thoughts on “The perils of perfection

  1. This is very true, there have been several projects I would have liked to have tried but haven’t, just because I don’t think I will be good enough at them. Whenever I finish anything I always feel I have to apologise for it not being perfect, most people probably wouldn’t notice my ‘mistakes’ if I didn’t point them out. x

  2. A thought provoking post, Ali. I tend to be a “near enough is good enough” person – I don’t aim for perfection because I know I won’t achieve it. It’s lazy and defeatist but at least I don’t feel too much of a failure!

  3. Hi Ali as always you give us all plenty to think about. The pursuit of perfection for me is a risky one as I am a new sewer yet still demand things of myself which are not achievable at my stage of ability. I have found that my wonderful sewing teacher helps so much as she is truthful and objective but says that anything made with love is a thing of beauty. Faults are a part of our daily living so learning to embrace them in my sewing is a real life challenge for me but I am slowly getting there. Have a wonderful weekend Ali and thank you.

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