perfectionism

by Emory Allen

Being a perfectionist can help us reach our full potential, but it can also prevent us from growing creatively. Perfectionism is a mindset based on the fear of failure, or what Stanford Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck calls a “fixed mindset.” It halts our creativity as we wait for the right conditions to start, we wait until we fully master a skill, or we wait until all of the details are finally perfect. Psychologist Sarah Seung-McFarland believes that this gives us a very limited view of the creative process:

When we are perfectionistic, there is only success and failure, nothing in between. Therefore, there is no room to learn and grow because doing so brings the possibility of failure. Consequently, we function purely within our comfort zone and develop no new skills. On the other hand, if we are not driven by fear of failure, we do not limit ourselves to what we know we can do well, and are more likely to take risks that promote learning and growth.

In order to move from Dweck’s “fixed mindset” to a “growth mindset,” author and illustrator Austin Kleon suggests focusing on the process instead of the final product. The process is messy in nature, so it doesn’t require perfection. It allows us to try new things and avoid the oppression of mastering a new technique right away, by stating that it’s “just practice” when we share it. It also increases our chances of actually perfecting that technique by publishing the imperfections; sharing allows others to give advice and provide constructive feedback to better our skills. Kleon challenges us to do this with every project:

Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, find one little piece of your process that you can share. Where you are in your process will determine what that piece is. If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress. If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned.

If you still can’t bear to share your work in progress with the world, Kleon urges you to at least show your inspiration. Instagram, pin (on Pinterest), or blog the books you read, the artists you are influenced by, or an interesting podcast you just listened to. Even if it is not your direct work, you are still sharing part of your process. Once you are comfortable with this, start to show pieces of your own work while they are in progress. Slowly you will be able to unwrap yourself from the constraints of perfection.

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