We hear a lot of different things about perfectionism. Some people praise perfectionists, because they admire their art and work, which is blameless, perfect, it can be an example for every one. Other people say «don’t be a perfectionist, don’t try to do everything perfect, you should better focus on the productivity and quantity». It’s easy to say, but if you are a perfectionist, you can’t just stop being a perfectionist, because this is how your brain functions, and this is how your inner world is built.
Hi, my name is Dima and I am a perfectionist 🙂
What is it like to be a perfectionist
When I was a child and was playing with my friends, we were building the sand castles for the game. My friends would build their castles quickly and start playing, but I was busy building the perfect one. Very often I would finish my castle when the game was almost over.
When I was in college I would always put all my books and other staff on the desk in the perfect order without even thinking. And my friend would always come and destroy my order, saying: «Dima! What is this??»
My 7 year old daughter always puts all markers in the case according to the color order, and when someone accidentally puts the marker in the wrong place she gets really upset. Markers should always be in perfect order. Where is this perfectionism coming from?? Hmmm
Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean having EVERYTHING in perfect order.
If I couldn’t draw a perfect line or the pictures on the wall are not placed perfectly, I can loose my peace until I amend it. I can spend hours on fixing small details in my video, but at the same time there can be a mess in my book shelf, or my clothes can be all over the apartment. That’s because I don’t think about the clothes now, I am focused on the video. You are a perfectionist about the things you are focusing on. The rest can be a total mess.
I have a different post where I describe my 6 habits from Soviet Union which are the opposite to my Perfectionism and Minimalism. Check it out here:
Or you can watch my Youtube video on this 🙂
Perfectionism is my prison…
When we speak about this – it sounds cute, funny, interesting, nice. But the reality is that perfectionism is my prison. As a creator I struggle with this a lot, because I want to make my videos perfect, I spend hours on fixing small details, which I know are not important to you at all, you don’t even notice if it’s perfect or not. For example when I use two pictures on the screen, (like this) I try to make them match completely. I know you don’t care, but those details are important to me. If they are not matching just a bit – it makes me nervous. Fixing all those small details takes a lot of time. If I would do everything exactly like I want, I would probably upload one video per year. But I want to grow my channel and upload at least once a week, so I need to accept the fact that I will upload the video which is not perfect. Very often I hit upload and I cannot watch this video anymore.
It gets even more difficult, understanding that I don’t speak perfect English, and I don’t have perfect gear (or perfect skills) to make excellent quality video, like these young guys do. (How do they do that??) I have to live with this until it gets better.
We have such a high standard that we ourselves are not able to reach.
All of this creates a big tension inside. Our standards are so high that we ourselves are not able to reach. It becomes obvious that the things we created are not perfect and we actually did it. We become our own judges and put ourselves in jail for this crime of imperfection. In our head we have questions like “Is it even worth of trying? I know I will not be able to make it perfect”. This constant thought «I didn’t make it», «I didn’t make it again» it is very heavy. It affects our self esteem, because we cannot meet our own expectations, you are never good enough for yourself.
I think the problem starts when your standards are higher then it is possible to achieve. For example when our daughter was 3 years old, she was drawing and she couldn’t stand if some line is not perfect. When you are 3 years old you just can’t draw a perfect line. So she started to hate drawing, not because she didn’t like it, she actually loved it, but because she couldn’t draw it as good as she wanted to, she couldn’t reach her own impossible standards. She had such a big tension inside. The solution that we found was to start with drawing a very simple objects and give her enough tools to do it good. For example if she needs to draw a circle – she would use a cup and a soft pencil, so we could also erase if something goes wrong.
It takes hard work and understanding to not get my perfectionism too far.
It’s good to have high standards and do your work at best you can. It’s good to strive for better quality in everything you do, unless it takes away your peace and makes you feel depressed, or robes you of happiness.
But the problem is that if someone tells you – «don’t be a perfectionist» or «you should lower your own standards» – that doesn’t really help. It’s not so easy to lower your standards. At least, it doesn’t happen in one day, it takes time to re-think and stop getting so nervous or depressed.
Another side of perfectionism is related to Expectations.
In our mind we have a certain expectations of what’s gonna come next. If I have a plan for the day and then something changes – I can get very upset, almost depressed, because my expectations didn’t fulfill.
Let me give you a different example.
Sometimes me and my wife are going somewhere and I want some coffee. I ask my wife – would you like a cup of coffee and she says no. I buy one cup for myself, and then she wants it too and starts drinking from my cup. That’s something I find very difficult to handle. Not because I don’t like to share. I can buy her 10 cups of coffee, but my cup is my cup. Because when I buy myself a cup of coffee I have a certain expectations, I expect to drink it all. I control my own pace, with every drink I know exactly how much is left and what to expect. I feel like my life is under control and it makes me feel safe. And then suddenly my wife takes my cup and all my expectations are destroyed. It’s the same as show a candy to a child, and then not give it.
It also makes me feel confused, because I expected to drink one full cup of coffee. It’s like a task in my head «to drink 0.5 liters of latte». But after my wife made one drink – I don’t know how much I drank anymore, I lost control, in my head this task is incomplete, I couldn’t close this task of drinking 1 full cup of coffee. Did you drink one full cup of coffee today?… NO…
That’s not a joke my friends, this is how I feel. I know it sounds weird, but if you are a perfectionist you will probably understand me. And if you are living with a perfectionist – I hope it will help you to look inside our head and understand why we do what we do.
Take the life under control.
Sometimes parents ask questions like – is it ok that my child is watching the same cartoon for 500 times or is asking me to tell the same story every night before we go to sleep. Children can also be perfectionists. Fore them it’s the way to take their life under control. When the child is listening to the same story for 1000 times – everything is familiar, everything is predictable, you know exactly what will happen next and you feel safe, life is under control. It’s the good way to calm down and find peace.
I have my own way of calming down. I like to draw the projects of houses and apartments. These are not professional projects, just some sketches on the paper. I like to plan different rooms, spaces and zones, I have few notebooks where I draw my houses. I noticed that it really makes me calm, it helps me to take my life under control. The pencil is my main tool (never use a pen if you are a Perfectionist! 🙂 and if some line is not straight enough, I erase it and draw it again. This is my small perfect world.
I also noticed that when our apartment is clean, when everything is in order – I feel peace, I feel much much better. And if we had too much work and we didn’t have time for cleaning, we have some dirty dishes, toys are all over the place, we have dust in the corners, things are not in order – I start to feel anxiety.
Probably that’s the reason why many perfectionists are also minimalists. Minimalism is about having less stuff, so it is much easier to keep everything in order, to control the situation, and you definitely feel much happier.
I have a post about Minimalism from the perspective of a dude which was born in Soviet Union, highly recommend 🙂
You can also watch the video about Russian Minimalism 🙂
The beauty of imperfection.
With all of that being said we need to admit that we are surrounded by imperfection. If we look at the nature we usually say how beautiful it is. Many artists get their inspiration from and devote their art to the nature. However if we look closer we will see that there is nothing perfect in creation – we will not find a perfect tree or a perfect flower, they are not ideally symmetric. Even our faces are not symmetric. Look at my face, I will flip the image in a second and you will see that it is not the same – you see, it is different, one part of my face is a little bigger then the other. Maybe because of the mimic – for example if I say Hmmmm, – i always do it to the same side, to the right. I cannot even do it to the left. Probably some muscles of my face are more active then the others, I don’t know.
The nature is full of imperfections.
There is no perfect schedule for rain or wind or snow. Sometimes I think – how great it would be to have the rain every second Tuesday in the afternoon. It would be predictable, you know exactly what to expect, you can take an umbrella only on Tuesday. But no, it doesn’t work that way. There is no perfect schedule. Sometimes it seems like the nature is waiting for you to forget an umbrella and then makes you wet. I remember once we decided to go to the mountains in the winter. We planned this vacation long time beforehand, we bought the tickets 3 months before the trip, I rented the snowboard for 2 weeks, and when we finally arrived to the place – it was raining for 10 days. We had snow only for 2 days. There is no schedule, there is nothing perfect.
But we still say the Nature is beautiful. Even more – imagine if all trees, flowers, clouds, mountains and animals had ideal shapes and were perfectly symmetric – honestly, I am not sure if they would be as beautiful. I think that the world would be boring. The same is for people – imagine all people with perfect equally symmetric faces and ideal shapes. Imagine Casey Neistat had a perfect nose, that would be a… Taylor Swift or something…
The truth is that imperfections make us unique, make us interesting and even attractive. The world is perfect in it’s imperfections. I guess we can learn some lesson from that. It’s good to pursue the quality and do your work as good as possible. It’s good to develop and grow and become better. And yet we need to learn to accept imperfections in our selves and in the other people. We will never reach perfection here on earth and we need to live with it.
Don’t let Perfectionism stop you from creating. Have a very good week and see you soon! 🙂