Don’t Knock It ‘Til You Try It – A Little Perfectionism Is Good For The Soul

Perfectionism has a bad rap.

It’s true.  Tune into any podcast, blog post or pop culture portal and someone will tell you perfection is overrated.

Present company included.  I have a post right before this one that described perfection (As in perfectly sequenced MIDI timing and pitch) as boring.

But here’s the thing (and there’s almost always a thing)….

It’s easy to go to extremes.

People will tell you that in a black and white scenario that they like the grey, but they typically like the grey closest to either extreme because balancing the middle is hard.

Those in any facet of the entrepreneurial space say, “Hey just get it out there and keep getting stuff out there!”  But that  advice works on the assumption that what you’re getting out is good.

It’s easy to confuse output with accomplishment.

On one extreme you have artists who cut corners with projects and turn out 1/2 baked recordings, books, films  and other works of art because they want to get the next thing out the door.

On the other extreme, you have people who never release anything because what they’re working on is never done.

The hardest thing in the world for an artist to confront objectively is a mirror.

“…Anything Less Than The Best Is A Felony.”

The best means discomfort.

It means pushing yourself right up to the limit of what can be done in the time frame that you have to work in.

Very few people do this on their own.

I really dislike gym culture (and much of its clientele), but I really like the physicality of gyms.  What’s great about it is that you see your limits immediately.   You can either can lift something or you can’t.  The benchmarks for performance are immediate and obvious as are the developments you make over time.

Developing yourself as an artist is much more difficult to determine.

It’s the distorted reflection in the mirror.  Many artists often look in the mirror and see someone else’s reflection.  They compare what they do to what other people are doing.

But it’s really like the gym.  It doesn’t matter if the person next to you can bench press more that you can, it only matters what you can do.

Another book story

I just re-released my pentatonic book.

When I initially released it, I wanted to put out an inexpensive pdf that would help people because some of the feedback I got from my other books was that they had too much information and were more money than people wanted to pay.

But releasing it the way I did just ended up hurting me instead. Because instead of making it 60 perfect pages, I made it the best thing I could in a weekend and got it out the door with my thinking being,  “Well the people who want a $5 book will read it quickly and then want a bunch of them in short order so I need to get in the flow of releasing a lot of them quickly.”  So I did it as an experiment basically.

It was a terrible idea.

It was a terrible idea 1.) because it wasn’t perfect.  There were typos and oversimplifications and shortcuts that were taken to get the length of the book down.  While some people who were looking for this format saw it and said, “Wow this is a great idea!”  the people who were judging all my output by this first impression (i.e. looking for faults in the book i.e. shopping) said, “Oh…thank God I didn’t buy the full book.”  It was the wrong first step to introduce people to what I do.

It was also a terrible idea because 2.) while it was a bargain for what it offered (6 lessons in a really valuable technique for $5) – the people who bought that book were never going to pony up $30 for a 400 page book. It would just be an endless series of releasing 60 page $5 books.

(On a related note, the people who bought the larger books were probably less likely to go back and purchase a smaller book.)  It was the wrong market for the wrong product.

So from a sales perspective, it was the wrong way to go.

On the plus side of this process – I got to use what I had done as a template to make the book I wanted to, instead of the book I thought people were asking for.

So, I took the lessons from the other books and filled out the material and re-wrote and edited almost everything.

And you might think, oh if the first book was 60 pages, it should only take 1/2 that time to create a 100 page book.

It ended up taking about 80-100 hours.

For the most part, those hours were spent on really tedious work.  Recreating graphics and editing them on the pixel level.  Rewriting almost every word and sweating the content.  Working on layout, fixing the table of contents.  Printing the book in multiple versions and getting the information flow just right.

In other words, mostly cutting and pasting and editing.


Despite what can only be described as a borderline unhealthy appreciation for Apocalypse Now, my favorite artist named Hopper isn’t Dennis Hopper but instead Edward Hopper.

Here in NY, the Whitney is showing a fabulous Hopper exhibit (“Hopper Drawing”)  that shows numerous sketches Hopper made before he made some of his most iconic paintings, and seeing them really shows his thought process.   Mostly you see a process of him sketching ideas with endless variation and tweaking them so that when it came time to paint it he understood every nuance.  Every light source…every shadow…every aspect of the architecture that would allow the painting to express what he wanted to say.

If he just threw the first image that came to his mind up on the canvas, it never would have worked as well.  It was only in that exhaustive research and exploration that he came to the true articulations of what he needed to say.

The effortless work of art is a lie.

Even watching Shawn Lane roll off a “perfect” improvised line, that effortlessness only comes from tens of thousands of hours of work (or more) to get to that point.  Hopper got to where he did by striving to push himself further.

To discount perfection entirely is to sell yourself short.

Better work only comes from raising the stakes, demanding more from yourself and repeating endlessly.

Like everything – it’s a balance.  Too much perfectionism and nothing ever gets released.  Too little and you release sub-par material.

But in a “It’s a journey not the destination” variation – it’s not just about finding the balance – it’s about finding out why the balance is important and how that balance helps you achieve what you’re setting out to do.

Until next time – thanks for reading!


PS – if you’re interested you can find out all about my newest guitar book release here, here or here.

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