A Perfectionist in All the Wrong Ways

If good creative work is produced by limitations, and I want to actually make good work, two questions must be answered:

  1. What kind of work is worth making?
  2. What kind of limitations should I place on myself?

Neither of these questions have an obvious answer. Re: #1, I only really know my interests — those things which draw me, make me feel alive, like I’m discovering something about life that I didn’t know was there before. Maybe I should start there (and maybe I already have), and hope that what I create is worth something valuable in the end.

On #2, the answer still isn’t obvious, but perhaps we can break those limitations down to discover possibilities. There are negative limitations — the things that I need to subtract in order to focus. This can include things like leaving Facebook, refusing to watch Netflix for a set amount of time, and so on. And then there are positive limitations — things that I need to add to my life, my daily routine, that will allow me to produce better work by repetition. I’m already doing this in one realm; Elaine and I are currently doing an X-Effect challenge (for 49 days, instead of Austin Kleon’s 30) for exercise. I have run every single day for the last five weeks, and plan to do so at least until I hit day 49 (although the plan is to build a habit strong enough to just continue running with no end in mind.

Theoretically, this ought to also apply to other areas of my life, however. I want to do good, theological and philosophical thinking and writing, but I often face lethargy and laziness by the end of the night when the kids are down. I want to be a writer, but the same applies. The reality, however, is that if I want to be that kind of person, I need to be that kind of person. Regardless of emotional states or motivation, if I want to look back on my life and be satisfied with the kind of person I became, the only choice is to do those things which I know will satisfy me.

Another reason I avoid this is that I don’t want to confront the fact that I’m a perfectionist in all the wrong ways. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t want to attempt something until I fully understand it, backwards and forwards, inside and out. This is great when I’m working on a car and don’t want to destroy a $15,000 asset. Not so great when I want to just be something and taking the first step will cost me literally nothing but my pride. It does me no good to not write when I’m worried about what others will think — not writing just means that I’m not writing.

So what should my limitations be? Perhaps simply doing the things I know I want to be doing, every day, no matter what.

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