I have a confession to make: I’m not perfect.
I’m not saying that I ever thought I was perfect. But in the age of social media and personal brands, I feel this constant expectation to present a perfect version of myself and my work. Today, I’m happy to announce that I am done with that idea—because my struggle to seem perfect has actually been derailing my creative growth.
It seems backwards to think that admitting that I make mistakes might help me achieve something, but what I’ve come to realize is that I have thwarted my own progress at every turn because my progress wasn’t perfect.
Several years ago, I set a simple goal for myself: write more.
Sure, there’s more to it than that—I don’t just want to write, I also want to share what I write about what I’m doing (creatively and otherwise) on a consistent basis (important!) so that I can foster real connections with people. It’s also about growth as a professional. I want to connect with my creative peers about the work that I’m doing in photography, art direction, and design, to share lessons and experiences that could benefit them as I have benefited from what others have shared.
But even in its simplest form, my goal has not been achieved, not even 1%. I have not been writing at all. For two years, I have developed methods of making it work: forcing myself to sit and write for periods of time (deleting each sentence right after it was typed), telling people I was writing to try and motivate myself (instead it was just lying), downloading lots of fancy writing apps that closed out distractions (staring at a blank screen for an hour is still not writing).
The real problem, I recently discovered, is that until recently, I didn’t believe anything I wrote was good enough to be shared. My perfectionism made me throw out everything I wrote. Whether it was a topic, a paragraph, or a word choice, it didn’t matter—it just wasn’t good enough.
“Why would anyone care about what I have to say?” I asked myself. Later, I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw questions about photography on my feed and realized (once again) that I have something to offer the world. My choice to throw out everything because it’s not good enough was not only hurting myself, but preventing me from giving back to the community that had helped me so much in my early years, when a majority of what I learned came from other people sharing their own experiences.
Today, the perfectionism ends. Although it’s a bit easier to write now that I’ve identified my perfectionism as the reason why I am not accomplishing what I’ve set out to accomplish, I still suspect there will be challenges ahead. Here’s how I plan to tackle them:
Setting simple goals
I’m holding on to my goal of “writing more.” Even though it took several years, having a simple and easy-to-understand goal has left me in a position where I have fewer reasons to criticize the work. Creating a goal like “write a weekly photography newsletter” would’ve increased my chances of failure by increasing the complexity of the goal.
Learning to keep my standards in check
I’m thinking about my standards—are they too high? How can I motivate myself to get comfortable sharing work that’s not “perfect”?
I’ve decided to settle on what I’m calling a “rate of production”—the amount of work I create that I eventually share. For me, that rate is 33%. That means for every 3 photos I take, I want to share one of them; for every 3,000 words I write, I want to publish 1,000. (When I’m working for a client, I set higher standards, sending only the top 10% of my work.) The truth is that if I wait for perfection, I’ll never share anything, and personal creative work is supposed to be the place where I can take risks, try new things, get feedback from my peers, and maybe even make mistakes. Setting a “rate of production” is forcing me to get outside my comfort zone and share more.
Remembering why I’m doing this
The biggest takeaway I’ve learned is to keep reminding myself why I’ve set out on this journey to begin with. As I said earlier, I realized that my perfectionism was making me throw out any decent progress I made, and because of that, I wasn’t able to share any of my experiences as a photographer—good and bad—with my peers who might have benefited from them. For me, talking about creativity and understanding the motivations of fellow creatives is super powerful. The culture of sharing that exists on the web today has been a huge inspiration for me and I want to do my part and contribute to it. I’m done letting my perfectionism get in the way.