Express Yourself

Perfectionism Is About Other People

Get over your fear of other people if you really want creative success

Nick Irving
Human Parts
Published in
3 min readFeb 4, 2020

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A woman in a corner leaning her head against a wall, as seen from behind.
Photo: Francesco Carta fotografo/Moment/Getty Images

I’ve lost track of how many people have told me that they’d never show the draft of their book to anyone. This admission is often accompanied by the qualifier that they’ll show it to someone “when it’s ready.” Another hindrance to creative work that I saw in my time as a history lecturer was from students who would tell me that they struggled to get work in on time because they thought of themselves as “perfectionists.”

Both of these varieties of perfectionism are about other people, not you or your work. To really succeed in creative endeavors, you have to get over the fear of other people.

It’s possible your novel is garbage — but you’re a lousy judge

I think the first kind of perfectionism — the “circling novelist” — is driven by the fear that someone else might confirm a deep-seated suspicion that your novel is not very good.

Hannah Arendt, reading Plato, argued that the finished work can only ever imitate the model in the mind’s eye of the craftsman who began it; that the work of our imaginations is always spoiled by the work of our hands.

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Nick Irving
Human Parts

PhD in Modern History and government functionary. One-time historian of peace and protest, now researching and writing about work.