Design Dives

Perfection Paralysis: Stay Calm, Create on

written by Luke Kenney


Any good creative producer will tell you their goal is to create something better than they did before. That’s not too hard of an ask. Is it?

You’re detail-focused and you have great taste so you set high expectations for your creative work. But, sometimes you see your work as subpar and it can be easy to get stuck in your tracks. You may, on occasion, stop yourself from publishing something or even creating anything at all.

It looks something like this.

  1. Get inspired
    Pull up your design brief, scroll through the internet and get inspired.
  2. “I can do that.”
    Think to yourself: “Hey, I can do something like that.”
  3. Create
    Pour your heart and soul into creating that thing.
  4. Share
    Share that thing!
  5. External Validation
    Wait for the 👍❤️ and positive feedback to come back.
  6. Disappointment
    Get disappointed in yourself. Begin to doubt your skills. Resent the time you spent on producing that thing.
  7. Paralysis. 😶

Look about right?

If you’re a creative person like me, you’ve probably experienced this before.

Why do some people set such high expectations on themselves? Expectations so unreasonably high that it crushes their spirits when they’re unable to achieve the results they are hoping for?

I call these people “Imperfect Perfectionists”. You might be one of them. You’re not alone.

Ira Glass, the host and executive producer of the popular National Public Radio show, This American Life once described the struggle to create something noteworthy as follows:

“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.

Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.”

So what’s the solution? Here are a few things to hopefully help motivate you to keep creating.

  1. Never forget what got you here in the first place.
    When you find yourself in this frustrating limbo, the challenge is to never forget what got you there in the first place. Remember that thing that got you pumped and into the game.
  2. Don’t set unreasonably high expectations.
    It’s easier to recognize beauty than it is to create it.
  3. Stay Calm, Create on.
    Don’t get caught up by perfection paralysis. Commit to the process and you’ll become good enough, soon enough. Put in a volume of work. Close the gap. Can you build the habits required to make small improvements day after day?

But what if design isn’t your thing? The principle remains the same.

If you’re a small business owner that understands the importance of consistent creative content, but without the knowledge or resources a designer would have, stop spinning your wheels. If you’re not passionate about it and you would rather spend your valuable time in the business rather then on business, there’s help.

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Perfection Paralysis: Stay Calm, Create on