You are not a perfectionist because perfectionism doesn’t exist. People call themselves perfectionists as way to excuse their inability to ship what they create. Perfectionism is merely a mislabeling.
Perfectionism only exists in ignorance, for it’s a lack of acknowledging that perfection is not possible. As you attempt to further perfect what it is you’re working on, new flaws will arise and there will always be something for you to nit-pick. Perfection can only be approached asymptotically.
There are ways of overcoming perfectionism, of removing yourself from the state of being paralyzingly critical, the first of which is to stop calling yourself a perfectionist and instead recognize the actual issue: the inability to mark a project complete and then share it with the world. Because self diagnosing yourself as a perfectionist means you’re writing yourself off, you’re excusing your actions, or lack thereof, instead of addressing the issue at hand.
There’s a lot of advice that can be had to help overcome this issue, however, I want to focus on one and treat it more as an umbrella phrase:
Use cheap paper
I mean this both in a literal sense as well as a metaphorical sense. Literally use cheap paper and other cheap materials, and metaphorically, take it as a means of caring less.
So yes, literally use cheap paper. In doing so, you’re freeing yourself of the predisposition and subconscious need to create something perfect. When you use materials that are cheap, you tend to care less about them. When you care less about your materials, you’re saying to yourself, “It’s okay if I mess this up.” Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist studying the science of motivation, suggests that telling yourself or even others that it’s okay to mess up is incredibly beneficial. She goes so far as to say, “When people are allowed to make mistakes, they are significantly less likely to actually make them.”
Nathan Yoder, an incredible illustrator, finds comfort in working directly with pen without first drafting his work because it puts him in a position to improvise. By first making that commitment, and saying it’s okay to make mistakes, he loosens up and embraces his true style.
“[I] work straight with pen because I find that when I work with pencil I tend to spend too much time drawing and erasing and not moving forward. Working just with pen forces me to move forward and [break] a lot of hesitancy.” —Nathan Yoder
Yes, it’s important to utilize quality tools and materials, however, it’s equally as important to step away from them. When you’re drawing with a crayon, you become less concerned with creating smooth edges or getting it right because you’re using a damn crayon.
In using cheap paper and other materials, you’re forcing yourself to take on the mindset of knowing that achieving perfection isn’t the mission nor is it possible. Perfectionism is merely an excuse littered with more excuses, a common one being, “I want to be the best I can be.” In the case of perfectionism, that is an excuse not a reason. You do not become your best or even better yourself by overly obsessing about details and focusing on perfection.
You become your best through deliberate practice and experimentation. If your mission is to better yourself, take on the mindset of a scientist. Treat everything as an experiment: form a hypothesis, test that hypothesis, document your results, share your results, learn from your results, and then apply your learnings when moving forward.
To call yourself a perfectionist is to call yourself a performer. You are attempting to put on an act for a show and can’t bear the thought of something going wrong, but here’s the truth, things are meant to go wrong—that’s how we learn. When you begin to recognize that perfection is a misguided pursuit, you can start addressing your work similarly to that of a scientist. Just remember, use cheap paper.