I have an announcement to make:
I seek perfection in everything I do.
It seems not a week goes by without a new blog post, op-ed piece, image meme, or self-help book insisting perfectionism is the enemy. It's the enemy of progress, the enemy of quality, the enemy of joy. Guru after guru proudly affirms that to seek perfection is deflating and unproductive. But I repeat:
I seek perfection in everything I do.
Do I achieve it? Rarely. There are times when I throw everything I have into a project, assignment or chore and I knock it out of the park.
Then, there are times when doing the very same leads to an embarrassment that is almost physically painful. But I seek perfection anyway.
Why? Because striving for perfection is the only way I know how to deliver my very best.
And yes, I've heard all the platitudes and the unsolicited advice. Yes, I'm familiar with the many assertions that claim "done is better than perfect." And I guess in a world full of less than impressive, yet financially successful creativity, they're right.
Call it being born under a bad sign or simply not being wired that way, but I'm not the kind of person who goes unnoticed when I don't deliver my absolute best. No. I'm the type of person who's always expected to deliver high quality at all times with a smile. It's become my reputation or "brand" (to use the buzzword du jour).
In college, I recall a English professor who once accused me of "resting on my laurels" when I turned in a paper that wasn't up to par with my usual work in her class. I also remember the defensiveness and mild depression that followed because it was once again a clear indication that others may be able to glide through life with C+ effort, but I was going to have to deliver a flawless creation at each turn if I wanted to escape ridicule or criticism. Interestingly enough, I think that's why a lot of artists understand each other, even if more and more of us seem to make a living off of doling out advice that is far from realistic than producing works of honesty.
Although not life-shattering, seeking perfection at all times can be a heavy weight to carry — namely, knowing that you're only as good as your last creation. But the elation you get from seeing your work fully appreciated because you gave it all you had every ... single ... time ... makes the reward much. more. sweet.
Now some of you may ask: "Why not simply seek excellence instead of perfection? Surely your work will garner the same result."
Sadly, no. Why? Because excellence is arbitrary. It's not just arbitrary from client-to-client or judge-to-judge, but it's arbitrary from your perspective as well.
Granted, when you're an artist producing a piece for a client, the client's notion of excellence is whatever they want. But when you work to achieve perfection, you're approaching your work with an emotional connection that will turn their request into something extraordinary by your standards while working within their guidelines. Their direction keeps you on track, but your commitment to "perfection" is what helps you produce something that you're proud to put your name on, and oftentimes that cannot be realized by simply pursuing "excellence."
I know at the end of the day, my work is a reflection of me. So I want the final result to reflect someone who gave it all they had. Sometimes, all I have on one day is not all I have the next day. I'm fully aware that I'm human and to quote Ron Swanson, "No one can give 110%. That's idiotic." So the results may vary, but my desire to deliver perfection never fades.
I understand why people fear the quest for perfection. We've been told our whole lives that "No one is perfect" and "No one expects you to be perfect." Although the former is true, the latter is not. Everyone expects you to be perfect. Everyone expects you to deliver something above reproach every time you release that album, uncover that painting, or hit "Send" on that email with your manuscript. And if it is less than "perfect," well ...
We like to think others might cut us some slack and will be understanding that we're flawed individuals, but if we're honest with ourselves, we know that's not true. The message you see around you everyday is: Be better. What you don't see is: M'eh. You're passable.
Why? Because everyone wants you to be their definition of perfect. And it's exhausting. I won't deny that.
I see other writers and journalists around me every day producing reams and reams (is that a fair unit of measurement anymore?) of creative output. Some are financially well-compensated. And others keep trudging along, hoping that their work will raise their bank account levels, notoriety and clientele. And I would love to join their ranks. But not for anything I've created where I didn't seek perfection at every step of the way.
So I don't view perfectionism as a flaw or a sin. I'm not going to treat "perfectionist" like its a 4-letter word! No. I've seen my work where I was clearly delivering my less-than-best, and I was left feeling embarrassed when someone complimented me on it. All I could think to myself was: "If you consider that good, you would absolutely love me when I bring my A game."