There's a funny thing about perfectionism: Focusing too much on making something perfect can actually prevent you from making something good, if not stall you out from making something at all. I wrote recently about author Peter Sims' healthy perfectionism idea: The focus on personal high quality and standards rather than the comparison to an abstract ideal.

Best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates has another take on how you can actually create great creative work by accepting it won't be perfect. In fact, in this interview with The Atlantic, he argues that perfect is impossible.

You get up and you have this great idea... and you sit down to write it and, almost always, what was brilliant before is someone not so brilliant when you go to write. It's as though you have a certain music in your head and trying to get that music out on the page is absolute Hell. So, you fail. And, if you're doing it correctly, what happens is the translation of what you hear in your head will almost always come out really badly... but you have to revise over and over and over until you get to something that's maybe 70 percent of what you wanted to do. You go from really bad to okay to acceptable, and then you know you did your job. You never really get to that perfect thing in your head.

Accepting it will suck will set you free

Something happens when you think perfection isn't possible: You just do your best. The self judgment, rabid comparison and abstract standards start to melt away. Instead, you're just focused on creating.

The beauty here is your intention shifts from not making any mistakes to making the best outcome possible within your abilities. It is from a lack mindset to a growth mindset, and the results will almost certainly be above your expectations - making you more encouraged to try again and do better the next time.

The irony of letting go of perfect

The ultimate Zen outcome is that perfectionism makes you more likely to quit in frustration or burn out from impossibly high standards, while accepting a flawed outcome can inspire you to keep going and actually create something darn close to perfect.

Coates tongue-in-cheekly called this process "banging your head against the wall", but it also got him two best-selling books and serious credibility in the American cultural discussion. Imagine how frustrating the process would have been if he actually was expecting his first book, Between the World and Me, to be perfect?

Like many things intended to be perfect, it probably would have never been completed.

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Published on: Feb 28, 2018