4 Key Signs Perfectionism is Destroying Your Creativity

My second grade teacher discreetly pulled my mother aside and said:

There’s something I need to speak to you about concerning Daniel.

What could it be now? Busted again for throwing Kim off of the merry go round or did Father Larry rat me out for hiding the sacramental wine before communion?

Neither would be the case. Instead, I apparently had an obsession with my pencil eraser.

My teacher added:

Daniel is not able to finish his assignments. He’s constantly erasing his work and starting all over. Handwriting lessons are the worst for him. He keeps erasing his letters and doing them over and over again. It’s as if he is never satisfied until his work is absolutely perfect.

Dr. Fugen Neziroglu diagnoses this constant erasing behavior as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I diagnose the behavior as a case of perfectionism mixed in with a spice of paralysis by over analysis combined with introverted tendencies.

My struggle with perfectionism would continue well beyond my childhood years.
As a student I was a perpetual editor of my own work never fully satisfied with a finished product. My dorm room was a sea of crumbled loose leaf paper sprinkled with eraser dust.

I would walk around with the feeling my work was constantly being critiqued by a panel of judges and I was never fully satisfied unless every judge hit the little red approval button turning their chairs around to accept me.


Hara Marano, editor of Psychology Today, writes:

Perfectionism seeps into the psyche and creates a pervasive personality style. It keeps people from engaging in challenging experiences; they don’t get to discover what they truly like or to create their own identities. Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you’re always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can’t focus on learning a task. Here’s the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation.

The endless pursuit of perfection can kill creativity and leave you in a catatonic state of ineptitude having never accomplished anything at all.

The first step to managing your perfectionism is acceptance and realizing that your perfectionistic traits may be doing more harm than good. Uncontrolled perfectionism can lead to depression, guilt, anxiety, and a never-ending feeling of worthlessness.

Look for these 4 warning signs you might be a perfectionist and learn how to control your perfectionism so it doesn’t extinguish your creativity.

1. There is no such thing as constructive criticism

There’s a scene at the beginning of Wedding Crashers during a divorce mediation when a scorned woman shouts out to her soon-to-be ex-husband: “You shut your mouth when you’re talking to me!” This sounds like you whenever your work is criticized regardless if it’s constructive or destructive. You welcome and yearn for feedback from the world but only if it’s praise and arms wide open acceptance. Anything less than a standing ovation with roses thrown at your feet—and you are wounded.

My girlfriend is my editor-in-chief and I still get nervous whenever I share my final draft with her. On some occasions I completely disregard suggested revisions due to resentment and pure stubbornness.

The fix:
I have learned to welcome constructive feedback from those I respect and admire although I may not always agree with them. Do not take it personal. There are invaluable lessons and wisdom that can be learned from others. Everyone will not agree with what you are trying to do.

Learn to take a jab to the face every so often and use it to grow and continuously improve. Recognize the difference between ridicule and constructive criticism and ignore the haters and brush the dirt off your shoulders. There’s not a single person on this planet that succeeded without some sort of supportive network along the way.

2. You have an inferiority complex

So you decide to start a blog about career advice. You write up a few blog posts and search the blogosphere looking for similar content to compare your piece to. The search is stopped short when you stumble upon the internet queen of career advice, Penelope Trunk.

Your writing pales in comparison to that of the masterful prose of the queen.

The little voice inside your head torments you:
You suck. Your writing sucks. You will never be as good as Penelope. Go try something else loser.

You then indeed move onto something else and the cycle starts all over again.

The great ones who originally sparked our inspiration can also cause us to feel inferior when we soon realize we can’t match their level of mastery.

The Book of Life describes The Perfectionist Trap:

Inspired by the masters, we take our own first steps and trouble begins. What we have managed to design, or make in our first month of trading, or write in an early short story, or cook for the family is markedly and absurdly, beneath the standard that first sparked our ambitions. We who are so aware of excellence end up the least able to tolerate mediocrity – which in this case, happens to be our own.

The fix:
Stop comparing your work to others. Recognize what makes your work great is the added spice you bring to an already established concept or idea piggybacking off of the work of others who came before you. Over time, your uniqueness will set you apart from the rest of the playing field.

Sometimes we forget about the grueling journey endured by the folks that inspire and motivate us. We only focus on their current track record of successes and assess our performance based on these final accomplishments. Understand that to achieve such successes, you will have to endure a beating or two in the beginning. Do not feel inferior toward those you aspire to be like, but rather, use them as an inspirational platform for learning and growing.

3. Always procrastinating

You will not accept anything less than extraordinary. Falling short of what may have been an unobtainable goal in the first place, leaves you presently paralyzed. You start to put off things due to fear of failure and producing mediocre results. You can’t accept average as the end result so you push out your deadlines to tomorrow, to next week, to next year, to the next decade.

Bestselling author Michael Hyatt wrote:
Perfectionism is the mother of procrastination.”

The fix:
It’s ok to set the bar high but be realistic with your goals and understand your new blog is not going to attract 5 million followers in 30 days. Take baby steps and create small wins for yourself when starting something new. Force yourself to feel some sense of accomplishment otherwise you will forever be a master procrastinator.

4. Analyzing, analyzing, and more analyzing


I changed my college major 5 times constantly researching and analyzing the benefits for each field of study, trying to land the perfect career. After graduation, there were piles of Entrepreneur magazines stacked high to the ceiling in my bedroom chock-full of highlighted business ideas, research, and notes.

My quest for the perfect college major turned my originally planned 4-year bachelor’s tenure into 6 with added tuition costs. I also never stumbled upon that big perfect business idea back then because instead of taking action, I was sucked into a whirling vortex of constant analysis of every little detail. One minor anomaly found would cause me to move onto the next idea, and then to the next—never having taken any action at all. I suffered from paralysis by over analysis.

The fix:

The pursuit of perfection stops you from starting projects or even relationships. The weather, the economy, the atmosphere will never be perfect. Your timing will never be right and you will always be a little wrong. You know what’s better than perfect? Done. Done is better than perfect.” —James Victore

Too much analyzing is agonizing.

Your brain can force you into a never-ending analytical loop circling around like a Ferris wheel stuck on autopilot with the operator passed out drunk at the controls. Round and round we go finding yet again additional information to research or details needing further tweaking with no end in sight.

Stop thinking so much and use a little less brain and a little more heart to wake up the drunk operator stopping the Ferris wheel’s continuous analytical cycle allowing you to exit. Your heart is what fueled the project in the first place so use it to set you free from paralysis by over analysis. Trust in your heart that you did your best and then release your work to the world.

Hit the publish button already

For this article I accepted most of the suggested revisions and constructive feedback from my chief editor without whining too much.

While researching, I stumbled upon plenty of quality content on the Web about perfectionism and creativity and used it for inspiration rather than comparing my writing and developing an inferiority complex.

It took me too long to finish this post which would explain some procrastination. I blame Social Media and Trump.

Maybe the article needs more analysis and editing. More research. More images perhaps. It doesn’t feel perfect.

It will never be perfect.

My creativity will not be destroyed.


Images by MaryJanesandGaloshes and Thomas Hawk

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