The curse of perfectionism

It’s crucial to start, jump in, and be unafraid to get messy when designing

I get nervous when I come across one of these four things:

1) A new Sketch project


2) A fresh piece of white clean paper


3) A blank word document


4) A clean whiteboard


I get nervous when I see these things because they’re so clean. When I stare at an open Sketch file, the need to create something Dribbble worthy on the first go overcomes me. I’ve wasted an hour before staring at an open window in Sketch. I’ve looked down at a new white piece of paper waiting for the perfect idea to come to mind. I’ve watched the cursor blink on my word editor waiting for the perfect sentence to fall out of my mind onto the screen. I fear creating something that looks bad. God forbid that it looks messy, unorganized, or the lines aren’t straight.

It’s the curse of being a perfectionist.

By now you (the reader) are either shaking your head in agreement or laughing at the absurdity of what I’ve said. If you’re laughing you should be because it’s absurd! The notion that anyone is able to create something half-decent on their first try is insane.

Creating something worthwhile takes time and it requires you to get messy. Marty Siegel, one of my design professors at IU, says you must “get down and dirty in the swamp” of your design process. What does he mean when he says this? He’s saying you can’t be afraid to do the hard work of pursuing different ideas. Exploring and creating different designs only to throw them out in the end. You must get outside of your comfort zone and do the hard work through trial and error. Only then will you make something that is worth anything at all.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
―Thomas A. Edison

The true curse of being a perfectionist is because you don’t want to mess up that white piece of paper you won’t ever start. You’ll close the word document and go do something else. You’ll close your notebook or walk away from the clean white board because you are afraid to mess up. For me, my perfectionism ties to a fear of failing. I have a fear that I will never be a good designer. I fear that others will look at my work and think its terrible.


The curse of being a perfectionist is what led to me having 215 unfinished drafts on Medium. I feared publishing. Most of those 215 drafts were a few ideas jotted down. I didn’t want to write anymore until I had “more experience” on the topics or I had a better writing style. I was afraid to get messy and just figure it out through trial and error.

Perfectionism and unfounded fear can be paralyzing if you let it be.

Don’t let it be. Nothing you create will ever be perfect. Perfectionism is a myth. The perfect design is absurd. You will never write the perfect story or Medium article. You and your team will always see flaws in whatever you end up designing and sharing with the world. Accept these facts now. Start getting messy and make mistakes. Learn from those mistakes and move on. It’s part of what will make you a better designer or whatever you aspire to be.

“A blank piece of paper is an invitation to jump into the future”
Tinker Hatfield, Nike Footwear Designer

So join me as I frantically write out my ideas onto that open word doc, draw some uneven lines on that whiteboard, draw an imperfect circle on that white piece of paper, and open fifteen different art boards in Sketch until I find the right layout for that high fidelity design.

Nobody creates something beautiful on their first try. Don’t believe anyone who says they can. It’s only when you start that you get to something you’ll be proud of. Get down and dirty. Make some mistakes along the way and learn from them. The mistakes you make and learn from might end up being more impactful than what you create. Don’t let the curse of perfectionism hold you back.

Thanks for reading!

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