I've always been a perfectionist.
When I was younger, this trait was applauded, as my constant striving for the optimal result forced me to exceed expectations in any aspect of my life I could control. But, as time went on, it left me paralyzed. I would stand at the starting line and never let my foot fall on the other side because I couldn’t predict a perfect finish. This pattern went on for years, and slowly my world grew smaller and smaller.
It wasn’t until I started designing over 30 years ago that I was forced to confront this fear head-on as I became acquainted with the design process.
The design process is not for the faint of heart, and it is most definitely not a comfortable journey to embark on if constant perfection is your goal. It’s a messy process, a winding road that forces you to lean into the discomfort of maneuvering around a bend without knowing what is on the other side. It runs you through the whole gamut of emotions, from excitement to dread, from feeling secure to lost in a matter of moments.
When I first began, I spent many days sitting behind my desk with my head in my hands, trying to keep my eyes from watering as I stared, completely overwhelmed, at a blank slate. I would spend hours trying to identify the “perfect” first step that would minimize failure and make the entire process more comfortable. I started project after project this way until I slowly realized that I had been approaching it all wrong. The only way to get comfortable was to make a decision, with no idea if it was the “right” one, and just work from there.
It feels akin to what I imagine skydiving feels like — the first idea, the leap into the free fall, and every idea after that a parachute that eventually leads you to a safe landing.
Throughout this time, I also discovered a love for antiques. Rather than being drawn towards the refurbished cabinets with a fresh coat of untainted paint and sparkly new hardware, I found myself enthralled by pieces that looked their age — cracked leather couches, scratched tables, and quirky clocks. As time went on, I started to apply this love of imperfections to myself, seeking out my perceived flaws and attempting to admire them in the same way I admired a storied scratch.
Throughout my career, I’ve learned a lot. I know how to arrange a living room to feel cozy, the ideal height for a dining room table, and how to pair patterns. I’ve also learned that perfection should never be the end goal because it doesn’t exist in the terms we apply to the idea. The process is perfect because it is a journey, it’s perfect for all the reasons we believe it is not. It’s a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs, one that is full of unexpected beauty that allows for much more joy in the end.
What is a lesson you’ve learned from an unexpected teacher? I would love to hear about them in the comments.