Shortly after I wrote about dealing with your Inner Perfectionist, I read this piece on Refinement vs Perfectionism Cairene MacDonald at Third Hand Works addressing the same issue. Cairene has generously allowed me to share her thoughts here.
Refinement serves the work.
Refinement is that process of adding only what’s needed and removing everything that’s not. It’s about a certain precision. It’s about making smart choices about what one’s creation needs to do its job in the world.
And, when I’m really in flow, I don’t feel like I’m the one making those decisions. I feel like I’m just obeying my muse’s – very clear and insistent – directions about what this thing needs to be.
While the process of refinement may be challenging and leave me tired, it’s a good sort of exhaustion – like after a good workout.
When I am engaged in refinement, I can sense when I’ve gotten it to good enough and the work is ready to be shared.
This is usually accompanied by a sense of pride and excitement (with maybe just a few nerves on the side).
Perfectionism serves fear.
Maybe it needs something else? There’s probably a better word. Maybe people will like it more if I made this part blue. What if I move this to the left half an inch?
Fuss, fuss, fuss. Endlessly. Over details that don’t matter.
I’m not in flow. And I’m making decisions based not on what would make the work better, but what I imagine would make the specter of my most critical audience happy. Which seems like it’s about serving them, but it’s really about me and what I need – not what my audience needs and certainly not what the work needs.
Perfectionism is draining – and it’s the bad sort of exhaustion that doesn’t help me sleep more soundly.
When I am engaged in perfectionism, the work never feels finished. And the idea of sharing it makes me feel nauseous.
False standards keep us stuck.
I’m guessing we all agree that perfectionism is not a good thing.
But I think one of the things that makes us reluctant to let it go is our fear that we will somehow throw the baby out with the bath water. That if we set more realistic conditions of satisfaction we will somehow end up producing complete crap.
It doesn’t work that way. In fact, that all-or-nothing attitude is just the perfectionism at work again.
It’s not so much a matter of lowering one’s standards, rather shifting one’s focus. Remember, our standards define how we choose to be in the world and interact with others. You can’t set a standard for how people interact with you. You can set some boundaries, but you can’t make people like you.
All you have control over is the quality of the work. Focusing on those standards will serve you.
Eliminating false standards that, in the end, just support how you hope people will interact with you eliminates the huge waste of energy that is perfectionism – and that will serve you too.
What are your efforts serving? Your work or your fears?
Begin paying attention to how you know the difference.
And when you tip into fear, help yourself find your way back to that space where you are creating from love for your work and its purpose in the world.
I think she’s on to something important with this distinction between “refinement” and “perfectionism”. I’m even beginning to wonder if you can fire your Inner Perfectionist, or at least send her for some retraining.
Edited Nov 19, 2015