Perfection is the enemy of progress

If you’re like me or many other creatives, you probably have great eye for detail – you notice when a pixel is just a little off. You get bothered by the little details. The animation curves aren’t perfectly smooth and it just might kill you.

So you tweak.

You fiddle.

You redesign.

You work on things for so long that you lose interest or your taste changes and then you have to start all over because “it’s just not working.”

And, let me guess… you probably haven’t finished a majority of your non-commercial projects.

I was chatting with my brother the other day about a project he was working on and I gave him some of the most powerful, yet personally hypocritical, advice I could:

Perfection is your worst enemy.

You might be thinking, “Wow. Really great advice, Chris. You should follow it yourself.”

Hey you’re right! I’m working on it. Part of writing this post is to put it out in public and hold myself accountable.

The problem with perfectionism

Perfectionism is defined as “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” My personal definition is “refusal to finish anything because, in some subjective sense, it’s not perfect yet”.

Perfectionism is safe. It keeps you from releasing things into the world and getting GASP! criticized. It helps you tell people you have something going on, without requiring you to show anything of it.

Perfectionism is often just an excuse.

Nothing is ever perfect. Usually, for me at least, perfectionism is an excuse to keep fretting the little details until I get bored and move onto another project.

You might be thinking, “but the little details are important! That’s what separates the good from the great!”

You’re totally right. Fretting the little details can be what makes you a great designer or animator or programmer.

But… it can also be what paralyzes you and crushes your projects into the abyss of unfinished work.

Here’s the tough truth about those little details you are agonizing over – 99% of people won’t notice. And if they do, they probably won’t care. And if they care? It won’t kill you. You’ll already be working on your next project.

I’m a recovering perfectionist.

I used to pride myself on being a perfectionist. From an early age, I thought being a perfectionist was my most valuable trait. But all this led to was two things:

  • too much pride in my own capabilities
  • never finishing any projects

I cannot over-emphasize how many unfinished projects I have had in my life. I always thought my mindset was “I’d rather not do it if I can’t do it perfectly”.

I’m only now realizing it was “if I never call it finished, they can’t judge me for it. it’s still a work-in-progress”

And boom. A life-time of unfinished projects.

Learn like a baby

Have you ever wondered how a baby can go from not being able to do anything except lay around like a blob and cry to talking, walking, and drawing in just a couple short years?

That’s right – they aren’t afraid to do things wrong. They learn by trying.

A toddler learns words after babbling incoherently for a long time. And most of those words sound completely ridiculous. But eventually, they get it!

If a toddler didn’t want to draw until they could draw perfectly, they would never draw. (Have you seen little kid drawings? They are horrible!)

Toddler’s don’t care if they look foolish. They are completely consumed with curiosity and an unhinged need to experiment and learn. At that age, they haven’t yet been crippled by perfectionism.

You learn much faster without perfectionism.

When you realize the perfection is the enemy of progress, you can start getting over your fear of judgement – one project at a time. You can start developing your skills – one project at a time. You can start chipping away at your ego – one failed project at a time. You can start celebrating victories and discovering your strengths – one project at a time.

When I was trying to advance in motion design, I learned 100x faster by creating a short animated gif, sharing it, learning from my process, and repeating, rather than working away on one big short film that never got released.

It works.

Each time you “ship” a project, you chip away at that part of your mind just making excuses for not producing things and releasing them into the world.

When it comes to creating things, done is better than perfect.

Now, stop using perfection as an excuse, and go create things!

I’ll do the same.

Also, I made two different animations/thumbnails for this post and couldn’t decide between them. Here’s the other one!

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