by Kim Davis, Cuenca Ecuador, May 30, 2018
I’m in Ecuador at the 2018 Cuenca International Writers Conference. I’m here as a speaker, but one of the perks of being a speaker is that you get to attend other speaker’s talks. Kate Kunkel offered a talk entitled “Turning Gobbledygook into Great Articles.” As part of the session, Kunkel assigned us the task of writing an article assembled from several blog posts, an interview, and a PowerPoint presentation. The topic of said article is to be “Perfection Paralysis.” Of course, it is a great blog topic, and useful for creatives of all stripes, so I decided to share it with readers of the Madville Publishing newsletter.
We have probably all heard the term “perfection paralysis,” and we may think we know what that means, but Patti Johnson, in her 2014 blog post for Success.com entitled “5 Ways Perfectionism Is Getting in Your Way” looks at our common misconceptions about perfectionism and explains that we often make the mistake of thinking perfectionist tendencies are a good thing. She explains that potential employers can see a perspective employee who identifies as a perfectionist as a liability because perfectionism often leads to reduced output. Employers would rather see more work accomplished, even if it isn’t absolutely perfect.
Mel Robbins, also writing for success.com, offers some suggestions to beat this perfection problem in his blog post, “The Secret to Ending Perfection Paralysis.” He describes a book he was attempting to write and how his own idea of the need for everything about the project to be perfect kept him from getting it written. It wasn’t until he accepted the notion that it did not have to be perfect to be a good book that he managed to get it done.
I identified strongly with a 2017 interview that Kate Kunkel gave to Ty Nugent about perfection paralysis as it related to her training as a harpist. I experienced the same thing when I trained as a classical guitarist, but at that time, I called it performance anxiety. I couldn’t play in front of anyone because I knew that whatever piece I was trying to play would not be perfect. Kunkel explains that once she overcame this need to perfect her harp playing, she was able to start playing as a professional harpist. This also led her to teach other aspiring harpists that they could play without being perfect.
Finally, Tim Elmore, in a series of slides from a PowerPoint presentation explains how perfectionism can warp our children. He suggests that we would be wiser to encourage them to excellence rather than perfection. He says we’re better off looking for progress in our own lives and abilities than attempting to always compete, or be more perfect than, others. Improving upon our last project is much more rewarding in the long run. It offers us an attainable goal, and keeps us moving forward rather than sitting in a state of paralysis and dissatisfaction accomplishing nothing.