The Subtle Art of Letting the Idea of Perfection Go

“Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

Brene Brown

Perfection means a state of being errorless and defects. In reality, 100% accurate things are non-existent.

Perfectionism is a myth. We keep chasing when trying to track it, or worse, we do not start at all.

Imagine that you are watching a video of a well-known painter painting a beautiful sunset. You think to yourself that it looks easy. Maybe I can paint that too. With an ambitious mindset, you go to a supermarket to collect all the required items.

One stroke later, the excitement falls drastically as you think to yourself; that was an amateur move.

That is when it hits. That you cannot undo the stroke; either you must change the canvas or continue painting.

You continue painting. Stress and anxiety building up with each stroke until after 10% of completion, you give up on the idea of painting as it will not look like what it was in the video. Sadly, you turn down the painting and never let that happen.

We set high standards for ourselves that we fail to meet. According to an early scientific study, the idea of being perfect is linked with the fear of failure due to low self-esteem.

If you think like this way before painting, “I do not have to imitate each of their strokes as they are experts. I can be better enough. I do not have to draw something like that or not even remotely close” As a result, your painting would be finished. Not the perfect one but good enough that it will make you happier.

Instead of gradually honing our skills by putting in repetitions, we decide not even to finish it.

“Done is better than perfect” — Sheryl Sandberg.

We should understand that experts in any field have spent most of the time failing, trying, and improving their skills. Had they cared about being perfect, they merely would have been experts.

Being Good Enough has advantages:

  • It will lower your starting barrier.
  • It will lessen the gap between the perfect end goal and mediocre reality.
  • It will help finish what you have started.

As my favorite author James Clear says

“It’s not the quest to achieve one perfect goal that makes you better; it’s the skills you develop from doing a volume of work.”

Get Better at Getting Good Enough

Campbell Walker was also known as ‘Struthless’ is an artist who cleverly combines art with political and social humor believes that,

Perfection is not the way; it is in the way.

Let us take an interesting example. Consider two kinds of people. First, Imperfectionists do not care to be perfect but consistently put out the targeted work. Second, Perfectionists would not put out their work unless it is well thought, detailed, and more accurate.

They have seven days to create quality work.

  • Imperfectionist puts out good enough work at the end of every day.
  • A perfectionist can create two high-quality pieces of work.

At the end of the week, you might think that the perfectionist is an obvious winner here, but hold on.

The catch here is whenever you finish a project; you get better than before. The gradual increase in the quality of your projects comes from feedback loops and constant reevaluations.

Therefore, 70% of a large pie is always better than 90% of two small pies at the end of the day.

How Perfection Leads to Self-Destruction

In the book Art & Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland shared an exciting story. This story will tell that often, while seeking perfection, we are caught up on a journey of self-destruction.

The authors mention an exciting experiment to show how chasing perfection can be dangerous to us in the book.

The experiment was undertaken on the first day of class, a professor at the University of Florida divided his team into two groups:

The First group: Quantity Group

The Second Group: Quality Group

The professor asked the Quality group to capture and submit one best photo after their semester-end, whereas he asked the Quantity Group to capture and submit a photo per day to grade them at the end of the term.

The quality group was expected to focus on excellence, but the quantity group was asked to build up repetitions and a string of reasonably average photos.

At the end of the term, it was Quantity Group who could pull out better quality pictures than the Quality Group.

The Reason: Throughout the term, the quantity group was constantly experimenting, taking feedback from peers, self-analyzing, testing, and learning. Meanwhile, the quality group speculated, strategized, and planned to take one perfect photo. Due to limitations and lack of experimenting, the output was an average photo.


  • 70% finished is way better than 100% unfinished work. Starting projects with this mindset will help you complete the project. You must keep reminding yourself that you are gradually learning, and it is okay if you make mistakes and learn throughout the process.
  • Quantity leads to Quality: If you focus on bettering your projects continuously without caring for them to be perfect and procrastinating, you will have a compounding effect of improvements. That can indeed turn you into a professional after a while.
  • The Fear of Missing out: The absurdity of perfection lies in a gap between our extraordinary imagination and our mediocre reality. It is in the under-ability to determine what it takes to be there.

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