image of hands and paintbrushes covered in many colours of paint

The Shadow Side of Perfectionism

I was drawn to graphic design at an early age. I recall being fussy about straight lines and neat lettering on my grade-school presentation posters. In middle school, I spent countless hours in the garage cutting strips of colourful tape and affixing them to wooden boards in experimental logo designs. I’ve never been able to work on a messy desk.

A measure of perfectionism is essential to my work. Yet there are times when this gift can be a significant liability. Finding just the right font for my to-do list is a time waster. Organizing files on my computer can be a fancy form of procrastination. And there are times when moving a design from 98% to 100% requires an effort equivalent to “boiling the ocean.” (Sidebar: I’ve seen many designers go sideways by obsessing over that last 2%.)

I didn’t recognize the shadow side of perfectionism at first. But I’ve been led to see how perfectionism can harm as much as it helps. Order is essential to design. But order can come at the expense of more important things. The ruthless pursuit of perfection can trample the messiness and the fun of life. Sometimes it’s better to just play with your kids than constantly clean up after them.

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