Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

spartan wanderer

More Perfect

For the last five years, my ramblings here on Spartan Wanderer have taken many forms. I started out on Tumblr when Tumblr was still sane, moved to WordPress and moved to Squarespace, tweaking everything along the way. I don’t write here for money. I guess you could say the blog has been my baby. You want to see your baby grow up and be the best it can be, and I think it’s safe to say that I can get quite obsessive over my little online space from time to time. 

I want the design to be beautiful, the content to be engaging. I have manually checked every link to make sure nothing is broken (several times, in fact). A lot of hard work and time has been spent - hours strung out on coffee in front of my computer screen - to make sure that everything is absolutely perfect. Something worth doing is worth doing well, but that’s not good enough for a perfectionist. I have this affliction, and it’s what I’m rambling about this week. Is being a perfectionist really such a bad thing? 

It’s important to get some background before we begin. I’m a graphic designer. In my experience, a lot of people think that designers can just “whip up” whatever they need (frequently with almost no project guidelines to go on). As much as I wish design was actually that magical, it’s sadly not the case. There is a lot of painstaking, fiddly, detail-oriented shit that goes into a given project, and by the very nature of this work I think that many designers would admit that they are also perfectionists. This is mostly a good thing - despite being an irritating personality trait for people on the receiving end - because it can be harnessed.

The Pros

1) I’m invested in doing my best work.

Probably the best thing about being a perfectionist is that you’re naturally motivated to do your best work, no matter how small or big the project is. I don’t want my name attached to something subpar, so I will make sure everything is just right before I publish anything. I enjoy it. There is something about tweaking anchor points on a vector graphic that is rage-inducing. But in a good way somehow. That feeling when you lean back in your chair surveying what you’ve just done and knowing it’s finished, knowing you made something awesome - it’s completely worth the soul-numbing tweaking that made it possible.

2) I learn over time as I try to perfect something. 

If you want to do the best work possible in your field, you need to constantly add to and improve your skill set. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing something, you should never be finished with learning new things. Although we’re talking about perfection, no one is. There will be things we need to figure out on the fly, and that’s just part of growing professionally. I like challenging projects because I know that I’m going to walk away with more than just money. Pursuing perfection means not taking shortcuts and being willing to learn a new technique in order to produce the best possible outcome. 

3) I earn a good reputation with clients. 

This one's kind of obvious, that is if you can get your time management and perfectionism into homeostasis. Being able to do exactly what a client wants, or even go beyond the call is not going to have too many disadvantages. The important thing is to adopt this attitude no matter how big or small a project is. If someone wants me to brand their entire new business' online presence, I'm going to work my ass off doing so. I'll put the same amount of effort into designing a simple template for financial reports. It's just good business to be perfect, at least as much as possible. 

The Cons

1) Sometimes I end up wasting time.

With clients, I stay within the boundaries of the project, whether said boundaries are time, budget or whatever. I consider that part of a job well done. However, I find that as I am constantly tweaking my personal projects, there is definitely some time that could be better spent out with friends, exercising or just learning skills or hobbies that aren’t necessarily related to my job. So yeah, instead of doing those things, sometimes I find myself late at night tweaking a project that I did a year ago just because I had an epiphany of something that maybe might make it look a little better. 

2) My perfectionism might actually be procrastination.

As it often does, my particular brand of perfectionism includes being a neat freak. It is the first comment I get anytime someone visits my apartment for the first time. That said, I sometimes find it hard to work if my space is untidy. So I’ll end up cleaning up before sitting down at my desk. Although it is just my personal preference, it can be a form of avoidance. Which is fine, I guess, if it’s my personal projects, but if it’s a client that needs my attention, then I’m better off just holing up in a coffee shop. 

3) I often feel stressed. 

This is probably the biggest detriment of perfectionism. Desiring perfection is naturally going to result in a lot of undue, self-inflicted stress. Because, well, it’s impossible to be perfect. But you still try to be. Sometimes not meeting the mark that you set for yourself can generate a lot of anxiety, and if that becomes the norm, your body will suffer. As will your work. This is a bad cycle to get into, and it's important that you hold yourself to a high standard while maintaining realistic expectations for yourself. 

Aim for the Moon

The important thing about perfectionism is to acknowledge the high standard you're setting for yourself without letting it consume you. The point of that mark is to improve yourself on the way there, not necessarily reach it every time. Achieving greatness without self-flagellation is possible. As they say, aim for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars. 

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