The voice of excellence or perfectionism?

I was greeted by a feeling of pressure.

The kitchen table was covered with glue, paper and scissors. I knew something was happening. The feeling of angst loomed in the air. They had a deadline the next day.

One evening I came home from work. It was really late so I planned on having a snack and going straight to bed. Little did I know I would be greeted by my brother and his girlfriend hovering over the kitchen table. At the time Nicola was a dance student. After 3 years of choreographing and performing she had to submit a portfolio of her best photographs to evidence her work. With her modesty in tact, Nicola is a great dancer and choreographer buy not a master of design or cut and stick. She deserved a first class degree, but sillily had to get this right to prove it to the examiners. (Of course judging a dancers ability through photography is slightly silly, but that’s another topic all together.)

As I walked through the door I was greeted with a look of ‘we might need your help’. Although they slightly down played it as they felt like it was too late to ask. Nicola did the classic thing of asking me if it was good enough.

She knew deep down that it wasn’t.

They’d spent the last 3 hours crafting this portfolio and ended up with something less than average. Certainly something that didn’t reflect her work. I felt a my stomach turn as if to ignite my ‘I care about this’ button. Quickly followed by a burst of energy to do whatever it took to make it right.

(A classic case of nerd sniping)
“The act of presenting someone, often a mathematician/physicist with a time consuming problem or challenge (often impossible to solve or complete) in the hopes of it appealing to a person’s obsessive tendencies.”

I was immediately reminded that deadlines are beautiful things. We really underestimate their power. They give us a laser sharp focus. All of the insights we need are channeled into a little bottle and given to us as a gift for showing up. Amongst the panic, the fear, the anxiety and the what if’s, a little voice reassures us that we will get there in the end.

The previous chapter in my life I spent 4 years making things. And like anybody who dedicates so much time to something, you eventually become very good at it. But the better you come, the higher your standards go. A brilliant thing because you produce higher quality work, but sometimes detrimental because you won’t settle for anything less than perfect! Again perfectionism is a topic for another post. In simple terms, it wasn’t

In my opinion I had no choice. The feeling going to bed was an impossible thought. It wasn’t good enough. It needed to be better to represent the quality of her work! All hands on deck. When matters more that it gets done that anything else you can possibly imagine doing. The racing excitement you get when you throw yourself into something.

Let’s do this.

As you can imagine, there was too much glue and too little care. The edges weren’t straight and the wow factor was hugely missing. Starting again was the obvious choice but instead it turned to a challenge of resurrection because she only had one copy of professional photos! We made a new plan. My obsessive gift and creativity helped channel our group effort to making it as good as it could be. And 2 hours later we smashed it. From Dogs Dinner to Shephards’ Delight in a matter of hours.

Nicola got the result she deserved!

When I began this post I wanted to tell a story about how things become great. Why some things take time and to not expect it to be the way you want it straight away. But as I began writing this message changed until now. As we finished Nicola turned to me with a mixed sense of relief, elation and disappointment. Relieved because there was moments where she thought it wasn’t going to come together. Elated because it eventually looked the business. But disappointed because she wished she had just “done it like that in the first place”.

I wanted to tell this story as a reminder that this is all part of the creative process. You make it. And remake it again. Until you get the result you want. Occasionally, it comes first time. But usually we have to follow the pattern of progress. As you practice more and more it will usually come quicker. But not always.

So next time you get this feeling of ‘ah s**t this isn’t good enough. It can be way better’. Tap into the magic ability to keep makes things better even against the clock! The ability to persevere. To get across the line. To stay up later than we imagined. To make it happen.

Step 1: Trust Your Instinct

If you don’t feel it’s quite good enough. It probably isn’t. But don’t mistake this for the pesky voice of perfectionism. Make sure you get it done!

Step 2: Commit to Excellence

It’s easy to give up and lower your standards. Make sure what you are doing represents how good you really are.

Step3: Ask for help if you need it

Other people have skills you don’t have. Never be too proud to ask someone you know to help you. They are likely to enjoy it anyway if you pick the right person!


Go forth and make great things!

And share any comments or ideas about about how you feel in this situations.

How do you keep going? How do you know when it’s good enough?

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