If you’re like many crafters, perfectionism is a way of life for you. You notice blemishes in material, out-of-sync stitches, and shades that don’t quite match … small details the untrained layperson’s eye would probably never notice. And certainly there is a beauty and satisfaction in creating a flawless piece of work.
The thing is, whether you realize it or not, perfectionism is probably hurting you more than it’s helping. For one thing, unless it’s a blatant error like misspelling a name or sewing with the wrong side of the fabric facing out ( I have done this!), chances are really good you are the only one who will ever notice the mistake or know it’s there.
As a professional editor, I make a living by focusing on finding mistakes and correcting them. But there’s a truism about editing: you cannot proofread/edit your own work. Because you are so close to it, you can read the same mistake again and again and simply not see it. I handed out my own business card (for my editing business, no less!) with the word “brainstroming” on it for a few months before noticing the mistake. That was a pretty blatant error, and even though I was really embarrassed to discover the mistake, I recovered without any major catastrophes resulting. Any gaff you make in your crafting will more than likely be much smaller and a whole lot less noticeable. Yet, how much are you stressing yourself out by striving to make your creation absolutely perfect?
Another thing to consider is that perfectionism slows you down! The most glaring place my perfectionism rears its control-freak head is in my own writing. I will slave over an article or blog post, reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading a hundred times, trying to make sure I’ve got every comma and en-dash correct. Well guess what I learned recently. Done is better than perfect! Reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading takes up a lot of time I could be using to write or create something new. If I can just release the need to worry that it’s not perfect, I can move on to starting a new project.
Psychology Today online has a very interesting article about perfectionism. One thing they mention is that perfectionism keeps you from growing:
Perfectionism seeps into the psyche and creates a pervasive personality style. It keeps people from engaging in challenging experiences; they don’t get to discover what they truly like or to create their own identities. Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you’re always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can’t focus on learning a task. Here’s the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation – exactly what’s not adaptive in the global marketplace.
They even have a 25-question quiz you can take to determine how steeply ingrained your personal perfectionism may be.
I grew up in Phoenix, home of the Heard Museum, a world-renowned museum dedicated to the lives, work, art, and history of the Native American peoples. During a fourth-grade field trip to the museum, and I heard something that has stayed with me ever since. The tour guide was explaining the elaborate weaving method used by several of the tribes to craft their beautiful blankets. She said that if the weaver managed to complete the entire blanket without making a single mistake, she would deliberately weave a mistake into the fabric, so as not to offend the gods. Only the gods were perfect, while the human condition is inherently flawed. That was the coolest thing I’d ever heard because it gave me permission for my work to occasionally be less than perfect.
I don’t necessarily abide by this “rule” when crafting my stockings or writing … but it’s freeing to know it’s there. We’re not perfect because we’re human. The sooner we stop trying to achieve the impossible goal of perfection, the sooner we will learn the lessons we’re here to absorb and the happier and less stressful our lives will become.