Striving to make high quality work is good, but wanting it so perfect that the work never gets made is very bad. I was a proud perfectionist as a boy. Now I see the damage of my perfectionist tendencies. I have stopped some good ideas from seeing the light of day simply by second-guessing their execution. I was convinced the final product would never be good enough. Instead of a collection of finished projects, I have a pile of failed attempts (unfinished stories, blank drawing paper, a pile of images instead of a photo series, notebooks of ideas relegated to the growing “someday” stack…). Enough.
Theoretical physicist and Cosmologist, Dr. Stephen Hawking said we exist because the universe is imperfect. If every element were perfectly spaced, he said, gravity would work equally in every direction and nothing would move. It would be a stagnant universe with zero growth and no life as we know it. Dr. Hawking’s description fits my perfectionist tendencies.
For the purposes of this post, let’s pretend that Dr. Hawking is far less brilliant and witty than he is. That makes me feel better when disagreeing with him – at least with his use of perfect and imperfect. A still universe is not a perfect universe. It is the perfect model of a universe. Instead of imperfect, I see our universe as asymmetric. In engineering design, an asymmetric system is unstable. In life and art, asymmetry generates movement and gives life to projects. It gives momentum to create. My universe is asymmetrical and I need it that way.
Light and darkness are not equal and symmetrical forces. Light drives away darkness, not the reverse. To my knowledge, there is still no invention of the dark equivalent of a flashlight (“flashdark”), a device that when turned on, sends out a dark beam that chases light from the room. We could spend lots of time, money and energy designing one, or we could simply turn off a flashlight and get the same result! We waste more energy in the darkness of perfectionism than we need to actually make work. Also, energy returns to us in multiples when we finish a project. That’s not a balanced equation either, but it’s perfect as-is!
If practice really does make perfect, let’s have no part of it! It’s easy enough to get trapped in perfectionism. We don’t need practice to get there! I’m not advocating that we stop honing our craft or not improve our techniques, but that we make the best perfectly imperfect objects we can. How many stories get written by editing before a single word hits the paper (or screen)? Our job is to make stuff. Kill your internal editor. Mine is dying a torturous hideous death and I’m not listening to his screams.
Besides, if we produce “perfect” work, then we become stagnant artists making boring work in a disinterested universe. That would be as unnatural as a working flashdark.