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Posts from the ‘Perfectionism’ Category

Perfectionism: A Killer of Dreams (or what I learned from dinosaurs)


Illustration by Charmaine Olivia

I’ll never forget waking up out of a dead sleep when I was in third grade. I bolted upright in bed in a cold sweat. I was having a panic attack at the age of nine.

For weeks I had been researching, writing, and illustrating a report about dinosaurs. I’d drawn my creatures with colored pencil precision and meticulously penned every word.  My report was, well, perfect. Pleased with my finished product, I put it in a clasp binder, decorated the cover, and went to bed.

Fast forward to my panic attack. No, those paleontological beasts weren’t haunting my dreams. What was terrifying me was the thought that I might get less than an A+ on my report. I turned on the lights, retrieved my magnum opus, and flipped through the pages. Was Triceratops’ head too large? Was Brontosaurus the wrong shade of brown? Suddenly, my dinosaurs were all wrong and I was out of time.

Photo: Marlia Cochran

I am happy to report that I am now a recovering perfectionist. It took me years and a lot of failure and not doing much about a lot of things to realize I wasn’t perfect. Of course, everyone who knew me already knew this, but it’s something I had to learn.

So I’m here today to talk to you about perfectionism and why you need to ditch it. In the past 24 hours I have read not one, but three, blog posts about perfectionism, and I knew it was a sign that I needed to write about this great Killer of Dreams.

The first post was from thought leader, Seth Godin, entitled “No one reads a comic strip because its drawn well.” He closes by saying this: “As creators, our pursuit of perfection might be misguided, particularly if it comes at the expense of the things that matter.” And what matters is that we create. That we do the thing we’re passionate about to the best of our ability and let the rest go.

The second post from Brain Pickings was sent to me by friend and fellow writer, J. Dana Trent. It was a reminder from Anne Lamott about why perfectionism kills creativity:

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft . . .

Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.

When one of my kindergarteners messes up a picture they’re drawing, I refuse to give them a clean sheet of paper. “You didn’t mess up,” I tell them confidently. “You just have to figure out how to make something wonderful out of what you have.” And they do, and soon they are all smiles because they’ve learned an exciting truth: every mistake, every failure, every misstep is an opportunity for growth.

Which leads me to the third quote from our old friend, Mister Rogers:


And that’s what growing up is all about. So, as we face the coming year with all of its perfectly terrifying and exciting challenges, let’s defy small by stomping out perfectionism. How?

  • Do your best.
  • Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short.
  • Pick yourself up and keep going.

Because that is the perfect solution for making your dreams come true.

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