Creative difference: Why being wrong is right

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.”  – Joseph Chilton Pearce

"Perfection" with red slashed circle over it

Being a copywriter or a designer is a tough job. We have to come up with idea after idea after idea to please different people and to fit different projects. And we think our ideas are damn good—otherwise we wouldn’t present them.

Of course, other people have ideas of their own so we’re used to all sorts of people telling us our ideas aren’t good enough. Even when we know they’re wrong, that can be a tough business to be in—especially if you’re a perfectionist.

What is perfectionism?

Many people think being a perfectionist is a good thing, that it means you only produce quality work. But having high standards and expecting to be perfect every time are different.

Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead…To the perfectionist, there is always room for improvement. The perfectionist calls this humility. In reality, it is egotism…Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough. – The Artist’s Way (p. 119-120)

Hi. My name is Coreen, and I’m a recovering perfectionist. Surprisingly (or not), I think a lot of creative people are perfectionists. They’re probably the ones you’ve never heard of—because they refuse to publish until something is perfect.

I was lucky because college helped mellow out my perfectionism. Getting the first D I’d ever gotten on a test, getting hammered on critique day in my writing classes—while disconcerting at first—really helped me distinguish between what was valuable feedback (internal and external) and what was not. Berating myself for not being perfect was not.

My passion to be creative and my quest to produce quality work are still in tact, but I’m okay with work not being perfect because creativity is a work in progress. What’s great about working with other creatives is that good ideas feed off of each other. And at some point, you have to let go…and that’s a good thing.

A perfectionist thinks nothing’s ever good enough. A good copywriter or designer thinks “how can we make this better?”

The perfectionist feels defeated and soon her passion for the work will die. The non-perfectionist remains excited about the possibilities, her passion still alive.

Being wrong gives us the opportunity to learn from someone else. It gives us the chance to make something better that more people will like and be satisfied with.

To break your perfectionist habits:

Give yourself deadlines

A creative mind often needs a trigger, a reason to start creating. Give yourself an hour to work on a project that would normally take three hours. Limit your work to that one hour so your adrenaline and creative juices kick in and your thoughts flow.

Encourage and enjoy teamwork

Watch and listen to how your coworkers develop ideas. Working as a team helps take pressure off and frees you up to learn, to see, to think and to contribute.

Open up to feedback

Ask people you trust what they think about your ideas or your work. Ask people you don’t trust too. Instead of being upset by seemingly negative feedback, be inspired. See this as a challenge for you to think and act differently.

Stop being afraid

Trust yourself most of all. You know what you’re doing. One shame of this economy is that it’s driving people back to perfectionism. People are afraid to lose their jobs, which means they’re also afraid to take risks and express new ideas. It’s time to stop being afraid.

Companies—managers and CEOs—have to step up and stop this cycle. Innovation and leadership come from having the space and the freedom to take creative risks and express all ideas.

Being right often comes after being wrong.


Want to go from perfectionist to creative genius? Read: Your Creative Genius Mindset: The Essential Qualities for “Outside the Box” Thinking



  1. Skip Shuda · June 28, 2011

    seems like solid advice for personal growth as well improving your creativity. funny how letting go can help you gain more.
    thanks for this post!

  2. ctmarcom · June 28, 2011

    Glad you like it, Skip! It is funny how, as humans, we so want to control things and we think that having that control will make us better or our work better. But most times, our ability and willingness to let go is the key to our success.

  3. Ryan Gerardi · June 28, 2011

    in high school my diving coach pointed out that I was a perfectionist. I didn’t really think much about it at the time except that yes I wanted to achieve perfection in my dives. In time this tendency has become an obstacle for me and the passage you included here from The Artist’s Way effectively explains why. I never thought of perfectionism in this way, but I do know it is a force to be reckoned with. I will have to give your suggestions a try. Good stuff.

  4. ctmarcom · June 28, 2011

    Hi Ryan, let me know how it works out for you. You used the key word, “obstacle.” When I was a perfectionist, I never would’ve thought of it that way, but it’s so true. And the passage from The Artist’s Way really resonated with me, so I am glad to see it’s having the same positive effect on others too.

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