How perfectionism kills creativity

From David Foster Wallace, four minutes of wisdom:

In 1996, Leonard Lopate at WNYC interviewed David Foster Wallace about Infinite Jest, the 1,079-page novel that catapulted Wallace into literary fame. Now Blank on Blank and animator Patrick Smith have teamed up with PBS Digital Studios to bring Wallace’s views on writing, ambition, and education to life. This four-minute clip highlights how Wallace views perfectionism.

Perfectionism is dangerous, states Wallace:

“You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in– It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.”

Artist Julia Cameron agrees:

“Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough – that we should try again.”

Anna Quindlen offers the best reason to give up trying to be perfect:

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

Her words perfectly express why we are here–not to get it right, but to get to the truth of ourselves.

What have you given up in a quest to get it “right”?

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3 thoughts on “How perfectionism kills creativity

  1. So true! I have a terrible streak of perfectionism. Nothing is ever done, nothing is ever finished 😛 It’s kind of stopped me from experimenting with things and can really suck all the joy and fun out of creativity. Creativity needs freedom and fearlessness, and the courage to do things that are ‘bad’ in order to fumble our way towards that which we might consider ‘good’ 🙂

    • You’re right – we need to be willing to be bad first before we can get good at anything, for the most part. Those of us who suffer from perfectionism – myself included – often don’t have the courage to get good at very many things, let along “perfect” (which is almost impossible to define). Thanks for your comment.

      • oh yeah I completely agree. I once read about the stages of learning – conscious incompetence (we’re acutely aware we’re not good at something), conscious competence (as we learn we become aware that we’re mastering it), unconscious competence (it’s second nature so we don’t even have to think about it). The first stage is uncomfortable, in the past it’s put me off trying new things. But I’m learning to get comfortable with the discomfort and give myself permission to be a beginner. It’s great for learning 🙂

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