Have you ever stopped yourself from posting work or showing it on your portfolio because you thought it wasn’t good enough to show with the rest of your work? You wanted it to be perfect but couldn’t quite get it to that level. Why do we do that? We have all done it, especially at the beginning and mainly when it pertains to work we care about. Which I would argue that you should only be doing work you care about. But the opposite mindset to perfectionism is to allow the quality to slide. This happens when you don’t care about something and you want it out the door.
Perfectionism normally starts because you have high aspirations to become a better person or to be the best you can possibly be, and comparison to others is normally how it’s served.
This is a dangerous mindset and my argument to why you should only take on or do work that you enjoy. To let the quality slide is what is dangerous because it reflects your name and what is associated with you and your values. Perfectionism is a taste. It isn’t always a negative thing. in fact, perfectionism is a great start, it associates with your high standards and means you want something to be the best it can be.
One of the places in which is can be a negative characteristic is if it disables you from creating and shipping work on a regular basis. Imagine this; you’re a letterer and you sit down to create a piece of work, you spend your day creating this piece of work, 9-10 hours on it, and then you step back to critique it and make some final adjustments if needed before moving on to post it. At that point you notice something that is off, you go to change it, step back to assess the change, then you notice it compromises the balance of the artwork, now you see multiple parts you can change and it takes another 4-5 hours of work. And at the end of it you think, “This will never be perfect”. There are 2 things you can do at this point; Stop changing the work immediately, leave it in the form it’s in and post it with your other work. Or; Scrap it entirely because it’s not up to the standard that you set your own work.
Which one do you think is better? The prior, post it in its ‘almost perfect’ state, is always the better option. Otherwise you have spent 15 hours with no results. The likelihood of the whole situation is that you maintain impossibly high standards. This is the paralysing effect of perfectionism. The perfectionism that prevents you from shipping a product or posting new work.
How you can cure this perfectionist mindset is to set your standards slightly lower than what you think you need to get to. As ‘Seanwes’ states, set your standards to 90% perfect. When your standards are so high, your work is going to be better than the majority of work that is already out there. When you lower your threshold, you’re able to ship your product and work earlier. This isn’t about putting out low quality work, this is the balance you have to attain between setting your standards high, lowering your threshold, and still producing maximum quality.
It takes double the work to get from 90% – 100% than it does for you to get from 0% to 90%.
When we start out in a field or early on in our careers, we judge the work by our peers to be the perfect state that your type of work can get to, so you begin to compare your work to theirs. When you are at the bottom just starting and no one knows your name in a field, it’s easy to set your standards to what you see others in that field producing. So you start to set your standards to their level. This is the wrong approach.
You need to produce work that is good quality but just off from what you perceive to be perfect, put your work out there, don’t be ashamed of it, be real with it, tell people you are starting off, that you are learning as you go. People may pick on your work when you post it but that doesn’t matter (for many reasons), lettering is mostly subjective, it’s an art style, completely custom. What you decide your work to look like, or the style you wish to use is your prerogative, it’s entirely your choice. It’s not up to anyone else to tell you that something is wrong.
You need to put out a flurry of imperfect work. This is how the ‘pros’ got to where they are now, but being imperfect at the beginning. Over time you will build up the skills and repertoire to be known alongside the greats. Be confident about your work and be willing to lower your standards to 90% or even 80% of what you think is perfect, because if your standards are that high in the first place, your work will be top quality and better than the majority of work that is out there anyway.
The reason why artists and architects sketch a piece of work before finalising it, and why a writer will write on paper before writing in a text editor on a computer is because there is too much tendency to edit as you go, to make it perfect while you are writing it, this is what slows down the process, makes you change as you go. The process should be to write it down first as a general idea and then come back to refine it after. You can’t make something perfect the first time, no matter what field you re in. This is what creates experts and specialists in different fields; their willingness to learn the minute details and grow. Peoples skill evolve with time dedicated to something.
Embrace the fact that there is always something you think you could do to improve something you’re working on. The more time goes on whilst working on it, the more chance there is for ‘scope creep’ (the idea that the longer you make a project become the more chance of integrating newer or better features into it that you believe will make it better). Meaning, when you try to make a piece of work perfect, it will never be complete. You have to learn to let go. Nothing is perfect. And that’s alright.
Perfection doesn’t exist.
Learn that there will be mistakes with your work. Learn that what you see as a subjective mistake in your work, most others will not notice it, unless they are professionals or experts in that field. Even then, the likelihood that they will take you up on something so small (and probably meaningless) is slim. Be a professional and you will be respected by professionals.
What’s better: Shipping your work at 90% of what you think is perfect, or not shipping it at all? What’s your goal with this thing?
Over time, your 90% will evolve with you because of your willingness to spend time to grow at your skill. Produce more work, practice at posting it at a level that is slightly less than perfect. If your version of perfect is posting 1 thing a month because the rest wasn’t good enough, then maybe you have to reduce your standards, and the way you do that effectively is to reduce it be as much that nobody notices the difference in work you perceive to be ‘perfect’ and what you deem as a slightly lower standard.
There are some people who will look for flaws, it’s the nature of the internet, it’s only cynics that point out your flaws, the people who have flaws with themselves. But most of the time, people want you to do good, they want you to succeed. If you have high values, good morals, and a willingness to be truthful and transparent, people will support you. Think of the audience you have now, the people who leave the nice comments and feedback on your work on social media now. They want you to do well at this thing.
Think of your favourite TV show or Game series. The 1st iteration was more than likely lower in quality than what it is in its latest. Things get better over time, so make sure you produce and ship your work more regularly, you will learn faster. It’s crucial to not maintain a perfectionist mindset so high in the beginning that it keeps you from posting your work.
Be confident in your self and your ability to produce work. Never delete your old work, it’s shows a journey from your lower standard work to where you arrived to today. You work evolves with time.