Professionally, perfectionism can be a source of great achievements. But the satisfaction of observing good results when applying this principle can quietly lead to a dangerous imbalance. There is a darker side to perfectionism, a way of thinking that worms its way into one’s mind, suffocating the creative process. Perfectionism can easily become too much of a good thing.
Balance is probably the most important mental aptitude when dealing with this issue. By knowing when to give up the endless quest for perfection, one can deliver impressive results in a timely fashion. But finding that balance can be an elusive task.
Imagine somebody sharpening a knife. At one point, the knife becomes sharp enough to be of good use. But then the person decides to sharpen it even more. The knife becomes extremely sharp. Even though that fine blade will deteriorate soon, it definitely provides a better experience for a while. Still not satisfied, our perfectionist decides to sharpen the knife further.
What happens afterwards, as you can probably imagine, is that the knife’s blade loses from its material without becoming sharper. Even worse, the blade might start to exhibit other problems that arise from excessive sharpening. Obviously, the tool used to refine the blade will also lose material. And last but not least, it’s wasted time.
This analogy helped me a lot. I managed to realize how redacting my work excessively can quickly become wasteful. I usually went through at least five revisions before publishing anything, sometimes more. From a certain point onwards, I was simply changing words and then changing them back. I discovered that it’s infinitely more useful and pleasant to ask for a second opinion rather than hammering at the text ad infinitum.
Perfectionism makes good friends with pride. The positive results obtained through this intensely self-scrutinizing creative process can be very encouraging. Therefore, it is not surprising when one starts to take pride in this way of working. However, it’s an unfortunate symbiosis and can easily lead to abusing the method. And we’ve already seen what that can cause.
Pride becomes both a trap and an excuse to stubbornly cling to a wasteful process. It can be very hard for a perfectionist to own up to this. I speak from experience. Ideals can spawn the most convincing of illusions. Feelings of superiority provide the perfect fuel for pride to burn, intoxicating the mind.
Despite these dangers, perfectionism can be a positive trait and a very important one at that. When wielded with care and balance, it acts like a distiller of quality. There are many factors involved in any creative activity – imagination, talent, experience, knowledge, ambition, consistency and the list goes on. Producing a satisfying end result requires these varied factors to play together harmoniously.
But the perfectionists don’t stop at “satisfying”. They don’t stop at “good” either. This extra ingredient, the additional amount of effort spent, is usually the difference between “good” and “great”.
I’m far from saying that only perfectionists can produce great things. Perfectionism is just another thought process among dozens of others that we have labeled using various words. However, when applied in good measure, it is a strong ingredient. And yet, it is never a guarantee.
While preparing to publish this, I had a rather amusing experience revising an entry which deals with how one should handle their inner critic. Through this short exploration, I realized that it is better to accept the possibility of another reviewer finding mistakes later – and learn from them – rather than sacrificing precious time in order to avoid the unavoidable. As a rule on Mentatul, I never revise a text more than four times before publishing it. I hope it was enough to allow these words to deliver their meaning in an efficient and pleasant way.
There are several ways through which we can set ourselves free from the shackles of our inner critics. A good first step is to involve our close ones into our work, especially those that already hold us in high regard. Humans excel at team work and can provide much-needed encouragement. Even more importantly is that we understand that it is ultimately in our own power – and best interest – to move forward, despite our insecurity or dissatisfaction. Starting with less important activities, we can learn to say “I’ve done my best. It’s time to move on.”
The extremes in which perfectionism finds itself are due to its “absolute value”. It is a rather intense character trait to have. When one falls into the many temptations and traps along the way, the consequences can be tragic, take depression for example. But when used wisely, perfectionism can lead to beautiful results.