Do you struggle to get things done because you’re trying to achieve perfection?
You may be spinning your wheels because you’ve fallen into a Perfection Trap.
My first lesson in the down side of perfection was at my first workshop with Canadian landscape photographer Freeman Patterson many years ago. I had my camera and tripod painstakingly arranged to take a picture of the bottom corner of a barn window.
As I wrangled with the position of my camera, Freeman came to check and see how I was doing. He looked through the barrel of my lens and pointed out an imperfection. He explained that since neither the horizontal window ledge or the vertical boards of the barn wall were true, the viewer’s brain would be bothered. Since the old barn was no longer square, it was important to choose one and align it just right.
After adjusting my lens, I stepped out from behind my camera and reached to swipe at a small piece of window caulking that had fallen on the ledge.
“What are you doing?” my mentor asked, stopping me in my tracks.
“I’m clearing the windowsill so the shot will be perfect.” I thought I was anticipating his next suggestion.
“Take it off if you want,” he responded with a knowing smile, “but if I were you, I’d shoot at least once with it exactly where it is.”
I obliged him and then took several more shots after I removed the caulking.
When the slides came back from the lab, I laid them out for inspection on the light table. I was certain I would prefer the image with the clear ledge and was amazed when the opposite turned out to be true. The image that stood out from the rest was the one with the piece of caulking! What I had thought was a flaw had the opposite effect – it made a good image great. That tiny piece of white caulking told the story of the weathered barn.
That simple lesson of when to use perfection in the creative process has stayed with me for over a decade. Sometimes perfection isn’t the best we can do.
Getting it right vs getting it done
We want to get it right when we are showing ourselves and our work to the world. We were trained in school to value “getting it right” over getting it done. We need perfection from our brain surgeon, but do we need to be perfect to show up and be seen?
Perfection is a double edged sword. It’s important to get big things right. But the down side of perfection paralyzes productivity and stifles creativity. It’s important to remember that our imperfections tell our story. Stop wearing yourself out trying to be perfect. Get out there and be real.