Welcome back to another entry into the PopLurker Sociology Series, where we take a human behavior, a behavior trend or trait, and pick it apart until it makes sense. Or at least until it stops annoying us a little bit, right? And today’s topic that we’re digging into is Perfectionism, or more specifically, the type of person who routinely cannot finish projects and tasks under the guise of Perfectionism.
*Note that this opinion piece is not attacking those with Imposter Syndrome, a real medical/psychological disorder of which symptoms might include difficulty completely projects and tasks out of the fear that the individual is not good enough. We are discussing good old fashioned laziness and lack of discipline today and those who don’t complete tasks by labeling it Perfectionism out of convenience or well, lies to themselves for the sake of validation or attention.
Before unpacking this topic, I will add this quick disclosure for those who read articles, editorials, or columns online and take the content as authoritative gospel. For your own sanity, just don’t. Read everything online with a grain of salt. Take what you like and leave the rest. Understand that the writer is sharing their opinion in written form. No one is trying to convert you, unless its a debate style piece that is trying to sway you to a side. Over here, that will never happen, we’re just Lurking. Editorials and opinion pieces likely will not be researched– they will be a stream of consciousness. Or sometimes, we’re just talking shit.
Editorials and opinion pieces may not have the empathy and compassion that you seek– I encourage everyone who consumes content to do better if you think you can do better. If you do not like the voice or message the writer conveys, is it effective to throw a tantrum until they change their piece into the article or column you want to read? Or would perhaps writing or producing your own content be a better idea?
While the above paragraph may have looked like we veered off course, there is one take away that ties this topic to that topic–many people expect content to be perfect. Immediately perfect. Producing content content consistently is not easy, nor is completing projects. But what makes them more difficult is expecting them to be perfect without that foundation of work. That is, your subjective perspective of what perfection is.
This is where our story begins.
In our world’s current state of affairs, there is extra time to think and ponder. There is also time (for many, not all) to start new projects. And while I was thinking and pondering, I started seeing a trend among people who cannot complete projects.
“I am such a Perfectionist that if something isn’t exactly right, I won’t do it at all.”
Holy shit, is this a real personality type? Let’s take another look at this using different words.
“If what I’m starting isn’t perfect according to my arbitrary definition, I won’t complete it.”
I wanted to discuss this topic today because the reality of it and the billions of people who are like this honestly make me very sad. The idea of completing nothing because where it’s going isn’t “perfect” sounds awful. Think about the people in your life and in your network– do you know anyone who behaves this way? I know I do. But I truthfully think we have two things happening here. And really, they stem from a place of laziness, excuses, and a lack of discipline.
But before we rip anyone apart, we can begin with the optimistic approach.
I feel like this sentiment, or being a person who cannot see a project through to the end under the veil of Perfectionism, is typically applied to artistic endeavors. And depending on the endeavor, it may be superficial or inconsequential. Many people “swear they’ll write that novel”. Many people will “take art classes” or “open that Etsy store”, “start that blog”, and so on. But if this endeavor isn’t “perfect” because they’re such “Perfectionists” it will just never happen. How is that Perfectionism? Am I missing the definition of the word? Is there something that you guys know out there that I’m missing? How the fuck is not completing a project Perfectionism?
I had a college instructor, Professor Martin Pousson, who always said “Let it be messy”. What he was referring to here, specifically in writing since I earned my Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, was the idea of not fixing your work right away. Let it be messy, get to the end, and you can go back and edit your work knowing how the story ends.
One of the biggest problems I see among new writers is trying to edit chapter one before anything else is written down. Before they allow themselves to progress to chapter two, they nitpick and obsess over chapter one again and again and again. This is an absolute waste of time. Because you know what, you might discover or invent something in chapter ten that completely changes a character arc or important element of the story. Writing isn’t always linear and story telling can take on many unconventional shapes. But I think that the inexperienced or novice writer may not have this perspective and therefore, like a tweaker picking invisible zits off their face, they break and rebuild the first chapter over and over and over again until they quit, frustrated that it wasn’t perfect.
You can take the above example literally and apply it to writing, or take it figuratively and symbolically apply it to another project or something else entirely.
Other people, however, never even sit down to write chapter one. These people, under their guise or excuse of “Perfectionism” are even more frustrating and horrifying to watch exist. My opinion? These people lack self-motivation and discipline but somewhere in their heads, they’ve twisted it up and decided that they are such Perfectionists that unless their imaginary project doesn’t come out “Perfect”, whatever the hell that means, that there’s no way they can even start the damn thing.
I personally can’t even imagine living in this headspace. And I don’t think the people existing like this should allow themselves to live within this lie anymore.
Self motivation isn’t always easy, especially where there is no direct feedback, applause or results. In the early days of creative endeavors, it’s quiet. It’s the “Diet Starts Monday” approach– some people need so much attention and positive feedback before even beginning their task that if they don’t get it ramping up to the project, they give up. But I’m telling you– Defeatist shit isn’t Perfectionism. It’s not. If your attention seeking behavior doesn’t get you attention, don’t play stupid games and pretend you didn’t follow through under the veil of Perfectionism.
Sometimes no one else gives a shit about your manuscript but you. That’s the fact of the matter, and if you want to see it through, you have to believe in it enough for the entire universe.
I’ve heard people say that there are Dreamers and there are Doers. I don’t think it’s that simple– I think that many Doers are Dreamers. That’s where inspiration stems from– the ability to imagine or dream up a better or a different reality. That’s where art and stories come from. I think, more accurately, that there are Dreaming Doers and Dreamy Wishers. And the Dreamy Wishers don’t always have the self discipline and motivation to start up a project that won’t yield them immediate pats on the back or money in their wallet.
But they sure would like it if someone else just made it happen them, right? And on a snark level, I’ve met many “Perfectionists” whose houses are a literal mess and pigsty, so I don’t quite understand why they insist on creative Perfectionism, but living among clutter and smelly trash is okay. Justifications are cool as hell.
I challenge these “Perfectionists” to really think about their projects, creative or otherwise. Think about how many you want to do versus how many you’ve completed. And if the number of works completed is non-existent or very small, I pose the question– How is this Perfectionism? If you cannot produce a product because you’re such a Perfectionist that if it’s not Perfect you can’t complete it, where is your Perfection? You have literally nothing in front of you. You have nothing in your catalog, nothing in your inventory. What does perfect even mean in this context at this point?
And if you’d rather just chill out on the sofa and watch TV and eat snacks, that’s fine! No one is going to stop you– do as you please. But blaming your lack of motivation, lack of discipline, or even lack of creativity on your “Need for Perfection” is completely foolish. If you don’t want to, you don’t want to– but I guarantee that there is nothing perfect about never giving the art you think you have inside of you a chance to breathe.
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