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Raise your hand if you often stop yourself from putting something out there because it’s just not quite perfect.
I know I’ve done that a lot.
I consider myself a chronic perfectionist. I’m a recovering perfectionist though and I want to help you in this episode!
Many of us have perfect ideas in our mind but what comes out doesn’t match that perfect vision. This can be discouraging and it can keep us from producing.
The difference between you and someone who is able to do something perfectly every time with seemingly no effort is a sea of imperfect work. The only difference is that they’ve accepted imperfection and put out less-than-perfect work anyway.
It takes producing a sea of imperfect work to reach that point.
But even after reaching a point of mastery, our perfectionist tendencies can still hold us back and affect how we work with others.
We talk about why we struggle with perfectionism, how using the “90% perfect” concept can help, working with other perfectionists, and the difference between hustle and perfectionism.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- When you start something, you’re not going to get it perfect the first time.
- Whenever you feel the paralysis of perfectionism, just do something.
- The difference between you and someone who’s seemingly effortlessly doing the work you want to do is a sea of imperfect work.
- Your 100% perfect takes twice the work of your 90%.
- If you give yourself realistic deadlines, you can still hustle and get good work done, but have a cut off point.
- Think of the initial words on the paper as sketchy pencil marks—it’s not supposed to be perfect, it’s supposed to convey a general starting point.
- If you’re working really hard on the wrong things, you’re not going to make any progress.
- We’re our own worst critics. We rarely criticize others to the same degree, yet we often expect others to be as critical of us as we are.
- If you’ve had an old project for years that you keep putting off and don’t ever finish, it might be better to just move on and work on the next thing.
- 02:20 Sean: I consider myself a chronic perfectionist. What about you, Ben? Do you consider yourself a perfectionist?
- 02:31 Ben: I either go one of two ways. If it’s a project I really care about, I will get completely lost in the details. I’m not aware of where I am on the spectrum of what percentage of perfection I’m achieving, but I’m so heads-down in the details that I completely lose it. Unless I back out and assess things, I have no idea where I am. Or, if it’s a project that I don’t really care about, I don’t think about it in terms of the perfectionism. I think, “This is good enough.” It’s not what I’d like to do, so I try to only do projects that I care about.
- 03:24 Sean: What about you, Cory? Do you consider yourself a perfectionist? He’s smiling.
- 03:29 Cory: I’m smiling because I just need to listen to this episode. I get paralyzed very easily. This morning, I woke up at 6am and I was really proud of myself, but I didn’t make the progress I wanted to, because as soon as I started writing, I knew it wasn’t good enough. Yes, I do consider myself a perfectionist.
Why We Struggle with Perfectionism
- 04:04 Sean: Perfectionism has good aspects, because it means that you have high standards, but there are aspects that are bad—being paralyzed so you can’t put something on the paper because it’s not going to be perfect. You’ve got this idea in your mind that’s perfect. You’ve seen similar examples of work that other people have done that you aspire to, and you’re frustrated that when you try, when you take your first photograph, paint your first painting, compose your first song, or write your first article, it doesn’t live up to the standard you have in your mind. There are two aspects to this.
- 04:48 We could first talk about the beginner aspect and then I want to talk about the chronic perfectionist who’s always living with this. In the beginning, when you start something, you’re not going to get it perfect the first time. It may seem like other people get it perfect all the time, but that’s because they’ve been doing it a lot. If you’re not getting it right that first time or that 700th time, try a 7,000th time. It takes repetition, doing it over and over. The reason these people can effortlessly shoot a perfect photograph is because they’ve shot hundreds of thousands of photographs, bad ones.
- 05:37 Ben: What is that Ira Glass talk about doing good work, your tastes? It’s kind of a gift if you can recognize the distance between what you’re able to produce and what you see as good quality. Having good taste is a great thing, but don’t let that keep you from producing things and working toward the higher quality you imagine in your mind. Perfectionism is born of different things for different people. When I was growing up, one thing that influenced my relationship with perfectionism was the relationship I had with my stepparents. My parents were always very encouraging and our relationship was solid. It wasn’t based on how well I performed.
- 06:52 With my stepparents, I didn’t get that sense. I’m a highly emotionally attuned relational person, and because I wanted that same kind of connection from somebody I considered to be a parent in my life, even though they were a stepparent, I wanted to do everything I could in order to solidify that connection. That has been one of the drivers of my perfectionism now, in my adult life. When I recognized that, it freed me up from that perfectionism. I recognized the root of that. There are other aspects of my perfectionism, like my personal taste, and my drive to improve. Some of that is healthy, but some of it can come from a place that isn’t healthy.
- 07:47 Sean: I don’t know that I’ve ever identified the root of my perfectionism. Cory, do you have any idea where yours comes from? For me, it feels integral to who I am. I want to do a really good job. There are people who want to do a really good job who aren’t paralyzed by perfectionism.
- 08:12 Cory: It does seem that way. I want to get into their minds somehow. They just do work. I think that’s what it comes down to—getting over that fear and practicing.
Whenever you feel the paralysis of perfectionism, just do something.
- 08:31 That practice will form a habit of, “Whenever I feel paralyzed, I just do it anyway.” Eventually, you can put that voice to rest.
- 08:50 Ben: Rachel experiences something really similar. Her dad left at an early age, and to this day she’s very much a perfectionist. She has the echoes of that voice inside her head. Now that she knows what the root of that is, it’s easier for her to discern between the unhealthy voice that’s driving her perfectionism and her own voice that just wants her to improve. Perfectionism isn’t always a negative thing, as long as it doesn’t keep you from shipping something. The unhealthy type of perfectionism is the one that has you paralyzed. I really like what you said, Cory. It’s the practice of putting stuff out anyway.
- 09:47 The fear is, “What if I put this out and it’s just not good enough? It has to be better.” That’s the unhealthy voice coming through. You do it anyway—you hear that voice and you say, “I’m going to ship it anyway.” You prove to yourself that even though you felt like what you shipped wasn’t good enough, it still went out there and made a difference, it improved somebody’s life, and it made things better. You’re shutting that voice down by proving to yourself that voice was wrong.
- 10:33 Sean: I call it “the sea of imperfect work.” The difference between you and someone who’s seemingly effortlessly doing the work you want to do is a sea of imperfect work. They have simply put out a ton of imperfect work. What’s keeping you from being at that level is your unwillingness to put out less than perfect work. It’s that sea of imperfect work that’s going to get you to the other side. You have to be willing to put out imperfect work, because in the beginning, you can’t produce perfect work. It’s this iterative process, and if you’re unwilling to put out work that’s less than perfect, you can’t get there. It’s stepping stones.
- 11:25 In this episode, from now on, when we say “perfectionism,” we’re talking about the incapacitating kind, the kind that is inhibiting you from creating your best work. It’s holding you back. That’s the kind of perfectionism we’re talking about. The way I define perfectionism is that your standards are unrealistically high. I don’t see perfectionism as, “Yes, this is a reasonable level we all need to attain, and anything less than that is doing poor work.” I see perfectionism as a standard that’s too high, that’s unrealistically high. We live in a world of imperfection.
- 12:12 Even everything that seems completely perfect with smooth edges and perfect corners, when you get down on a microscopic level, nothing is really perfect. It’s a perception of perfection.
This ghost of an idea that something can be perfect is a lie that’s robbing us of creating things that could be really great, that could move or help people.
- 12:39 For me, it’s recognizing that as a perfectionist, as someone who feels incapacitated by my standards for perfection, I am someone with standards that are too high. They’re unrealistically high, and they’re keeping me from creating. You shouldn’t be kept from creating, doing really great work, and sharing it with the world! I see this kind of standard as something that’s holding you back. It’s something to recognize.
- 13:13 This is where my 90% perfect idea comes in, which has saved me mentally as someone who considers themselves a perfectionist. Because my standards are so high, I allow myself to mentally lower that threshold to 90% perfect—90% of what I would consider, with my unrealistic standards, to be perfect. Usually, 90% of unrealistically high standards is still better than what the rest of the world considers perfect. The rest of the world is trying to cut corners, and they don’t care about the details. You know what 90% is if you have to put in double the work to get to 100%. This is for the perfectionist.
- 14:06 I was talking to Felippe about this earlier. With this 90% perfect thing, it only works for perfectionists. If you don’t care about perfection or the quality, then 90% of low standards is going to be even lower standards. This concept really only works if you know your standards are unrealistically high. The way you know that is, if you lowered the bar to 90% and you put out work and everyone else sees it as perfect. They don’t perceive the difference—a very small number of people are going to perceive the difference between 90% and 100% for someone who is a perfectionist. If people can’t tell the difference, you know your standards are too high.
- 15:05 Ben: We’ve talked before about a threshold that’s the minimum standard for quality in whatever industry you’re in. It’s not a set line, necessarily, but there’s a range of acceptability, like having good quality audio if you’re a person who does video—like seanwes tv. There’s a minimum standard to where people will tolerate a lower quality thing, maybe at 70%. If you’re capable of 100%, that 90% is a great place to land, because 90% is better than the average, which is probably around 85%. Between that average output and that 90%, do you reach a point of diminishing returns?
- 16:23 Sean: In this show, when I talk about this 90% concept, I’m speaking to chronic perfectionists. Earlier, we were speaking to people in the beginning stage who say, “I want to create great work like so and so,” and they’re just starting out, but they can’t get it perfect the first time. Now, I’m talking to the people who have been working for years and create awesome work, but they’re still struggling daily with perfectionism. When is the time to ship this? How much do I keep working on this? Maybe you’ve got all these projects you want to do, or you’ve been working on, and you just haven’t released them. Maybe it’s been years because it’s not quite perfect, not up to your standards.
- 17:06 I’m talking to the chronic perfectionist. This 90% concept applies to them. They have standards that are so unrealistically high that it’s causing paralysis. This is how you know—you know if it’s causing paralysis.
Your 100% perfect takes twice the work of your 90%.
- 17:42 That’s how you know where 90% is. This 90% is higher than what the rest of the world would consider perfect, and you know this based on feedback. The difference between your 90% and your 100% is imperceptible if you’re a person with unrealistically high standards. The difference is imperceptible, yet you allow it to incapacitate you. This person is who I’m speaking to when I recommend this 90% thing. If you’re worried about 90% being bad quality or, “What if people criticize my thing if I launch it at 90%?” then you’re not the person I’m talking to.
- 18:28 The chronic perfectionist knows that if they put it out at 90%, everyone will think it’s awesome and great, but it’s not good enough for them. If you’re thinking that at 90% perfect people will criticize you because it’s not going to be as good, you’re not the person I’m talking to. This person is not someone who struggles with chronic perfectionism, and that’s a real struggle. There are pros and cons to perfectionism. The pros are that you have really high standards, so you can train yourself to mentally lower that treshold and put out phenomenal work that affects the world. If you have low standards, you don’t struggle with this paralysis, but it’s much harder to train yourself to have higher standards.
- 19:29 Ben: Could part of the solution for a chronic perfectionist be to think about it very practically? To say, “Past my 80% work, the effectiveness of what I’m doing isn’t benefiting so much more from bridging the gap from 80% to 90% that I should continue working.” At what percentage do you reach the point of diminishing returns, where your energy is better spent elsewhere?
- 20:06 Sean: To me, that’s 90%.
- 20:12 Ben: There’s a difference between what’s practical and what you hold as a value. While the practical thing could be helpful, I think of 90% as a value. It’s saying, “I don’t care if I reach the point of diminishing returns or not. I’m committing myself to doing 90%, and I don’t care if I’m losing time. That’s the kind of quality I’m committed to delivering for people.”
- 20:40 Sean: You could put out 80% or 75% quality work, but Ben’s right—90% is more of a value. Someone asked if there were practices and exercises you could do, and this could be different for other people, but it’s not a learned, habitual, or a muscle-memory thing. This is a conclusion I reached logically. My standards as a chronic perfectionist are unrealistically high. It incapacitates me so I put out less work.
I could continue having unrealistic standards and put out a project every five years, or I can lower that threshold so the work I’m doing is able to go out into the world sooner and more frequently.
- 21:40 I can actually have a greater impact at that level. You can keep going down and say the same thing at 80% and 70%, but it’s a value, a standard. I think 90% is top notch work. This isn’t about putting out shoddy work, it’s about putting out work at a level that’s just below what would otherwise totally inhibit you.
- 22:08 Charli says, “In the midst of a project it can be hard to have clarity on if you’re being held up due to perfectionism or because it’s simply not good enough yet. Got any tips for how to step back and judge objectively if your work is at the famed ‘90%’?” This goes back to who this 90% concept is for. The 90% concept is for someone who’s overworking to reach this magical state of perfection that doesn’t really exist. The 90% is lowering that mental threshold, not about working upwards. Is my work to the 90% level yet? It doesn’t work in that direction.
- 23:01 Ben: In voice, when they teach about hitting certain notes, a lot of people think of it as reaching to a note. One of the mental tricks you can do to help you hit those high notes is to think of it as if you’re a dove fluttering down and landing on the note instead of overshooting. If you’re asking the question, “How do I know if I’m getting to 90% or if this isn’t good enough to go out?” The person who this 90% is for is the person who blows this minimum quality standard out of the water without blinking an eye. When you get to that point in your project when you’re considering, “Does this need to be a stopping point, or do I need to continue working?” you’ve already far surpassed the minimum quality standard. That’s who this episode is for.
Working With Perfectionists
- 24:05 Sean: Steve says, “How do you work on teams when others’ perfectionism is slowing progress of the entire team’s work—where they don’t subscribe to the ‘half the work is going from 90% to 100%’ mindset?”
- 24:32 Ben: If you can’t, through conversation, convince them of this concept, say, “It’s worth enough to this team for us to test my theory.” Do some AV testing with a couple of different projects. Say, “With this project, you’re in charge of the quality, and we’ll see how long it takes.” Make sure the projects are similar enough that they should take about the same amount of time. There shouldn’t be too many other variables that could cause the project to go longer than it should. See how much time the team has to put in to get to 100% vs. 90%.
- 25:31 Sean: I’m remembering my past self. Is there any worse combination than someone who is immature and a perfectionist? It’s pretty bad. I wouldn’t want to deal with that, yet that was who I was when I was younger. I was less mature, but still a perfectionist. When working on teams with other people where we were all working together and all our work affected each other, I took it personally when others would even insinuate that maybe I should lower my standard just a little bit to be kind of reasonable so we could get the project out the door. How dare you insult this perfect idea I have in my mind? How dare you say that we should put out shoddy work?
- 26:36 That’s how I acted. That was immature, because anything less than perfection—in my mind, at that time—was shoddy work. That’s not fair to say, especially when the top end for a perfectionist is never shipping anything at all. How can not putting anything out because we work on it and improve it forever be the ideal? It’s really hard. If you’re working with a perfectionist and they’re immature, that’s hard. I know how I used to think then, and it’s not fun to work with someone like that. It took coming back to the goals of the project for me.
- 27:36 Felippe says, “What if you work with clients that are perfectionists?” That’s tough, too. Immediately, we think of the person who’s looking over your shoulder saying, “Do this, do that. No, change this.” This is how I’ve been able to come up with my answer for working with a perfectionist on a team, especially one who’s immature—if a client is allowing their own perfectionism to get in the way of the objective of a project, they’re being immature. I can say that as a perfectionist who was immature. It’s the same with someone who’s on a team.
The only way to combat another perfectionist bringing a project to a standstill is to preempt it—establish the goals of your project beforehand.
- 28:24 What are the goals with this project? Apparently, this guy thinks the goals are to do the absolute best work you ever can on this piece of the project that you are responsible for and to make it absolutely perfect. That is what he has made his goals. If you have that kind of dissonance, it’s a matter of lack of communication. In the beginning, you need to get everyone on the same page as far as the goals. What are we trying to accomplish here?
- 28:54 Are we all going off into our own little worlds, where our realm is something we protect and we say, “No, I’m not contributing this piece of the project until it’s 100% perfect no matter how long that takes or how unrealistic that might be.” Or, are we working together to solve a common problem, to achieve a common goal? If so, how does our part play into that? That almost certainly will mean that the perfectionist can’t make their piece absolutely perfect. Are we accomplishing the goal or are we not? If your perfectionism is keeping your or the entire team from completing the goal, it’s actually a bad thing.
Hustling vs. Perfectionism
- 30:09 Felippe asks, “How do I different hustling from perfectionism? Sometimes it looks like I’m working hard and hustling, but it ends up just being me trying to achieve perfection. How do you separate them from each other?”
- 30:27 Ben: When I think of hustling, projects, tasks, and things like that, I think in terms of deadlines and timelines. As a perfectionist, if you give yourself an indefinite amount of time to work on something, you’re more likely to creep into that between 90% and 100% zone.
If you give yourself realistic deadlines, you can still hustle and get good work done, but you have a cut off point.
- 31:02 It’s something you’ll have to figure out over time. You might have set the cut off point too early, and you find that you’re consistently working over that. Maybe you need to put the cut off point a little bit further down. Still, keep in mind, you’re shooting for 90%. Let that be reflected in the deadline you set for the project. That way, you can continue to hustle and work on different things, but you’re not working indefinitely on one project.
- 31:35 Sean: What do you think about that, Cory? When I said “distinguishing between hustling and perfectionism,” you went, “Hmm.”
- 31:42 Cory: It seems hard. I don’t really know how you differentiate them. I think it comes down to whether this perfect image in your mind is stopping you from completing it. Hustling isn’t being stopped. You’re not stopped if you’re hustling.
- 32:08 Sean: That’s a good distinction. If you’re being paralyzed, you know that’s perfectionism.
- 32:26 Ben: It could look like you working really hard. Being paralyzed doesn’t always look like not working or shipping something, necessarily. It could be that you’re putting way too much time into this thing. You’ve got other things you need to be working on, too, that have their own deadlines. Being paralyzed almost looks like you’re hustling, you’ve got your head down, and you don’t realize that you’re past 90% and you really need to stop working on this project and get to the other things.
- 33:00 Sean: Hustling is a tool, a hammer. If you’re just banging against your wall, you’re going to put a hole in your wall. A hammer is a tool; hustle is a tool. That’s great if you want to tear down the wall or put up new drywall, but it’s just a tool. If you’re hustling into a wall, that’s not great unless you want to knock the wall down. Hustling isn’t an end to itself.
If you’re working really hard on the wrong things, you’re not going to make any progress.
- 33:43 It all comes back to goals. Cory said he woke up at 6am this morning, he was feeling really good. He said he was trying to remember what he did last night, because it’s usually not this easy to wake up early in the morning. He woke up with this great day ahead of him. It’s 6am and he’s feeling good, and it’s rare that that happens at 6am. You want to sleep in, you’re tired. It’s early and he feels good, but for some reason, the words weren’t flowing.
- 34:27 Cory: It’s this story I’m writing, a script. It’s my best piece I’ve ever come up with. I’m partway through it, but it’s so good in my mind. That was kind of frustrating, because I was feeling great, but I still got stuck.
- 34:56 Sean: I think the idea in Cory’s mind is really good, and he’s frustrated that it can’t be equally good when it comes out. The key to curing that kind of perfectionism is to remove the backspace key from your keyboard. Rip the backspace key off of your keyboard or pull the eraser off of your pencil. Your job is not to edit now. It’s like an artist trying to render a perfect image by starting with a pen rather than sketching out the concept beforehand. Think of the initial words on the paper as pencil marks—it’s not supposed to be perfect when it comes out. It’s supposed to be a general idea that you can refine.
- 35:55 Like I always say, you can’t improve what you haven’t written before. If you haven’t roughly sketched in with a pencil this concept of the idea that you have, you can’t improve it. You can’t refine it. You can’t go over those sketches with a micron. You can’t render the final version. If you’re so caught up in saying, “This perfect idea in my mind needs to immediately, in the first step, be translated into whatever I’m creating,” you’re going to be continually frustrated.
- 36:34 Ben: There’s this thing called morning pages. The idea is to start writing first thing, right away. It’s a practice you use to write without the “editor” dictating what you’re doing. That’s what slows us down in the writing process, the self-editing. As you’re writing it, you’re evaluating what you’re writing and determining whether or not this sentence is sound. Does this sentence fit within this paragraph? I love this practice, because it teaches you to just put your words out there and get your thoughts out. One of the ways I’ve learned to do this myself is not in writing, because I still struggle with that. I’ll put on my voice recorder and talk out loud.
- 37:30 That really helps me to get my thoughts out. That’s a very specific example, but you can translate that to other things. It’s like when I used to clean my room. I would make a bigger mess before it would get cleaner again, because I wanted to reorganize and tidy things. That was okay. Sometimes, you have to make things a little bit messy before you can move them toward perfectionism. Can I address a couple of questions in the chat that just came up? I have my own thoughts, but then I want to hear what Sean thinks.
90% Isn’t a Target
- 38:09 Sean: I’m purposefully avoiding the percentage questions, because it’s muddying the waters and a lot of people aren’t quite getting the premise. I’m going to go back in and clarify with some people in the chat, but I’d be happy to take some other ones.
- 38:29 Ben: These are the percentage ones, but I have what I think is a satisfying answer. 90%, as I’m reading in these questions, feels like a moving target, given the amount of time you’re working on a project.
- 38:54 Sean: 90% isn’t a target. The people asking these questions are aspiring to 90%, but this message is for people who know they won’t accept anything less than 100%. We’re pushing them down to 90%. There shouldn’t be any talk of anything lower than that. It’s not for the people who say, “Is 70% good enough? What if my 70% is my 80% and I get better, can I ever get to 90%?” That’s not what the concept’s about.
- 39:30 Ben: I’m reading that people are having trouble nailing that 90% because it keeps on improving, or they’re not self-aware enough to make that determination for themselves. I think a satisfying answer for that is to say that your project has to have a deadline. You’ve got to have a clear start and finish date. If that gets pushed back because of circumstances, that’s fine, but you have to redefine it and reestablish it. Otherwise, you’re going to continue to improve, and your perfectionism is going to continue pulling you into the realm of diminishing returns where you’re spending more time on this than you need to. Having deadlines is a good practice for a number of reasons. You can’t let things go on indefinitely. I think this is a problem that people who are chronic perfectionists can experience.
- 40:54 Sean: You’re probably right, Ben, and I’m not seeing it. I see things like what Felippe says in the chat right now, “101% is still a low percentage for me,” and that’s who I’m talking to. If 90% feels like something to aspire to, that’s not who I’m trying to reach with this message. If 90% feels so low and you’re thinking, “How could I ever do work at 90% and not 110%?” that’s my challenge for you. 90% is fixed because of the way I’ve defined it. When you know it’s going to take an equal amount of work to get to 100% as all the work you did to get to 90%, that’s where 90% is.
You always know where 90% is—as you get better, it fluctuates with you.
- 41:51 There’s always a midpoint in your work where you’d have to double it again to get to this idea of perfection. Tear it apart, Ben. Let’s dive into this. I don’t want to just define the perfect concept for people. I want to actually help people, and if they’re still stuck and this idea isn’t helping them, I want to dive into that.
- 42:20 Ben: In this example, there’s a project Cory Miller has been working on for over six years. In that amount of time, not only do your skills evolve, but the tools available to you change. What you can do today producing music vs. what you could do six years ago is a phenomenal difference. The problem there is that perfection is a moving target. The tools improve, your skills improve over time, so for that length of time, it presents a problem because of the amount of difference.
- 43:07 If he had set a deadline six years ago and he had stuck with that deadline, he may not be happy today with what that looked like six years ago, but he could have scaled down to 90% back then and it would have been fine. Now, six years later, what would have been 90% then is 70% today. He’s capable of producing much more. The target is not as much the moving target as it is the length of time that has passed.
Just Make Something
- 43:40 Sean: Rather than get into semantics about the numbers, I’ll just give advice. The advice is, you took too long to do your project. Six years is too long. You let it stagnate, you have old work there that represents old skills that isn’t up to your current standards. The solution is to finish the project. Take the remaining work, do that to 90% of your abilities as you define it now, ship the project and get it out. It’s got all this old crusty work in there that doesn’t represent how good you are now, but that’s because you took six years. Get it out out and do another project. Your goal now should be to get this out so you can start on your next project, which you’ll get done in fewer than six years.
- 44:29 Otherwise, you start overthinking it. “Well, there’s old stuff here. Maybe that was 90% for me then, but it’s not now. Do I go back and improve it? Do I overcompensate and do 110%?” Just get it done.
- 44:51 Ben: I’ve got a music video that I shot for the band back when Sean was in it. I took a bunch of video, the song was recorded, and everything was good. I started putting it together and I got about a month into the project and stuff came up, so I had to let it go. This was probably around six years ago. I just recently got into the files—I dusted off one of my old harddrives and I found it, and I looked through the footage and thought, “I’m capable of producing a much better project today. Not only would this not represent what I’m capable of producing today, but it’s not worth my time right now.” You may have something like that, that’s dead in the water. Because so much time has passed, it’s no longer worth your time to try and salvage that thing.
If you’ve been working on a project for years longer than you intended, it would be better for you to move on and work on the next thing.
- 46:01 Sean: What’s your goal here? Is your goal to obsess over something and get some random piece of it to perfection? Can you zoom out a little bit and say, Cory, “With my film, I want it to tell a story that will move people.” If I’m not writing this right now because I have a perfect idea in my mind and the first draft isn’t matching and that is keeping me from shipping the film, it’s keeping me from accomplishing my goal, so I need to rethink that. Think bigger! “I want people to experience this music.” Maybe taking six years isn’t accomplishing that goal.
- 46:47 Maybe taking another two years now, when you went back to try to finish it in a few months, isn’t accomplishing that goal. Maybe your goal is something bigger than that. Maybe it’s, “I want to put out an album a year, and right now, I’m putting out none, because I’m thinking about that old one I could go back and master. It doesn’t represent the skill I have now, but it’s there, and I could work on it. I have this new idea, but I feel bad working on the new idea while I have this unfinished old idea. I should probably go finish the old idea.” What is the bigger goal? The bigger goal is to put out an album a year. If the old crusty album is keeping you from making the new, great album, which is keeping you from putting out an album a year, get rid of the old crusty album.
- 47:33 Don’t go back and make it perfect. Say, “The idea of this imperfect album is making me not even want to touch it, which is keeping me from creating. I’m going to cut it off and I’m going to start right now committing to making something. My goal is to get this out, and I’m going to say that 90% perfect is okay, because I’m going to keep improving and getting better. My 90% is going to evolve with me.” That’s always going to be half of the crazy perfect idea, half of the work of getting to this magical perfection state. As you get better, 90% evolves and you ultimately put out greater work, but you put out more great work, which is way better than none at all.
- 48:21 Ben: It’s really hard. Unfinished work can be one of the biggest hindrances. It’s about the commitment you made to yourself, and sometimes the commitment you made publicly to put something out. If you made a public commitment to put something out and it’s keeping you from producing more, I promise you, your audience wants something from you even if it’s not the thing you committed to give them. It would be better for you to come to them and say, “Because I’ve been so much of a perfectionist on this, it’s kept me from sending anything to you guys. I know you really want my work, so I’m going ot put this aside, even though I promised to do it, so I can actually send something.”
Your Audience Wants You to Succeed
- 49:14 Sean: Even as perfectionists, if we really analyze ourselves and what we want from others—switch to consumer mode—what are we looking for? We’re looking for a story, an experience, a message, a concept, a value, or a principal. You want that piece, the story, the gist of it. Even as a perfectionist, the vast majority of us are not looking for flaws in other’s work.
We’re our own worst critics, but we don’t do that to other people.
- 50:01 Yes, there are critics out there. There are people who only look for the flaws. I was talking in the chat about how Apple, arguably, puts out devices that are over 90% perfect, and they’re always going to get people critiquing them. There are always people who will look for the flaws, but that’s 0.2%. The rest of the people who buy the thing, who want what you’re putting out there, are rooting for you. They want to find the good in what you’re putting out. We’re all going to go see Star Wars, and we want the story to be good. We’re cheering for it.
- 50:41 I want this experience to be great. I want it to be awesome. There are going to be those critics who say, “He should have cut here. This special effect ruined…” Most of the people in the audience, and most of the people in your audience, are looking for the gist of this thing. They’re looking for the message and the story. They’re not looking to critique you.
- 51:13 Ben: When you ship something regularly and you get that momentum, you experience that feeling of putting something out that wasn’t perfect and being very aware of that, but think about the feedback you get, the way people respond. Think about the comments you get saying, “This was great, it made my life better.” That’s the experience you’re creating for people. That’s the goal. 90% or perfect isn’t the focus of why you do what you do. It may be part of your personality to strive for perfection, but what you care about the most is making people’s lives better with your work. In order for you to accomplish that, you’ve got to put your work out there.
- 52:11 Sean: When I think of the people I follow, artists or designers, maybe every once in a while I see a flaw in their work, but when I think back over their portfolio collectively, I remember the good things about their work. When I think over my favorite TV show, there were probably some continuity errors. Maybe I chuckled, but when I think back over it, I don’t remember those. I think about the story and what I like about it. If I think about an experience I saw with a live band and there was a note they hit that was sour, I don’t remember that. I remember the overall experience.
- 52:57 I hope, when you think of this podcast, maybe there was a cough or two that we didn’t edit out or maybe we stumbled over a word or there was an awkward moment, but I hope you remember the general message. I think you do, because if I think about myself and the shows that I watch, like the Ask Gary Vee show, it wasn’t always perfect. There were mess ups, bad audio, and glitches, but I don’t remember that. I remember the overall message, and so will your audience if you allow them the opportunity to do so.
If you’re holding back your work because it’s not up to your perfect standards, you’re robbing your audience of the opportunity to remember the overall message.
- 53:52 Ben: As your audience follows you, they may get a sense for how you’re improving in your craft. That’s a fun secondary story to watch unfold. Think about the people you followed from the very beginning when they started producing something and how much better they are now. You loved the thing they came out with in the beginning, but you also get to be part of seeing how they evolve and grow. From the audience’s perspective, there’s something really fun about being part of that story as well.