Some say perfectionism drives us forward, gives us a goal, demands our best work. These people are probably not perfectionists. In my experience, the desire for perfection has been the single greatest problem I face in attempting to write anything at all. This is a pep talk I give myself to try and force my mind, and my heart, to stop seeking perfection.
Perfection is the weapon our subconscious uses against us to keep us from failing–and in doing so, it guarantees we fail.
There’s a myth, that we all start with, that we cultivate and we dream about and we believe in—that we can be perfect. That we are perfect. That the perfection within us exists just beyond our reach and we just have to coax it out. So we sit, and we think, and we talk, and we listen to music and picture our success, and we wait… We wait for that perfection to rise up within us and take over and do all the work for us. And it makes sense to wait because that’s the only way the perfection will work.
Because when we actually start writing, start doing, we see that we are not perfect. We realize we will never be perfect, that perfection doesn’t exist—at least not for us, even though we think we see it in others. We see that the ideas and the stories, the characters and the words, the writing that we struggle to create is… not as good as we want it to be. It feels inferior, no matter what we do. It feels like we will never reach the apex of perfection that we see in our favorite books. It feels like we are the worst of the worst, like we are not writers, like we can never be writers. It feels like absolute failure.
But it is actually the first step to success.
The mirage of perfection exists because our subconscious is trying to protect us. The little bubble of potential that we live in while we think and dream about writing but never actually write is safe, because it feels like success is just around the corner and it feels like we can be perfect. When you start to actually write and you confront the imperfection of your craft, you look back at that safe bubble of perfect potential and you think: I should just go back there. I was perfect there. And if I stay there a little longer, if I cultivate perfection a little longer, I will be perfect. I won’t be this.
But that is a myth. Because every time you step out of that bubble, every time you begin, you will be imperfect. You will be bad. Even if you spend decades in that bubble, you will still be horrible the first time you step out of it. And if you buy into that cycle of thought, that staying in the bubble of potential until you’re perfect will actually work, you’ll never leave it because every time you leave it that bubble will burst, the mirage will break, and you’ll realize you’re not perfect and you never will be. And so you’ll crawl back inside and spend another year, another decade, waiting and thinking and dreaming and failing.
The only path to success is to fail, to try, to be imperfect—even horrible. You have to break that bubble of potential and live in the actual, feeling like you’re failing but actually on your way to succeeding. In this craft, success is not perfection because perfection does not exist. Success is completion, success is sharing your work, success is trying and failing and trying again.
And the first step to success is to fail at being perfect.