For most of my life, I was sure that being a perfectionist was one of my greatest qualities. I felt that everything important to me had to be done in the best way, and that a mediocre result was just unacceptable. It took me time to finally realize that perfectionism is not a positive quality that I own, but rather is something that I suffer from – almost like a curse.
My design studies
I mostly felt the burden of being a perfectionist in my visual communication studies. Because I felt like I had to present perfect work, I was afraid to start working on new projects, and I was always finishing them at the last minute (after literally not sleeping for two nights straight). Actually, it is not exactly right to say that I finished them—there were always parts of the assignments that I didn't do at all, usually the small finishing details.
I believe there are at least two kinds of perfectionists—those who always finish projects ahead of time with every small detail accomplished in the best possible way and those like me, who really want to do their best work but are so afraid to fail that they postpone the work until the last minute. Then when they bring in something half-baked and receive criticism, they have an excuse as to why it’s not as perfect as they wanted it to be—it’s not a matter of a lack of talent, but more of a problem with time management.
Because of this problem, I barely managed to graduate. I was just too critical of myself, and one month before I needed to present my final project, I decided that I would give up. My project's graphic language was still unresolved, and I thought there was no way I could present something that was less than perfect. Luckily the head of the department helped me change my mind, and I graduated after presenting a more than decent project!
Working with clay
A few years later, when I started working with clay for the first time in my life, I felt freed from the need to be perfect. I didn't have any expectations for myself, and the only things that interested me were gaining new skills and having fun.
When I got better, and clay was not a stranger anymore, my perfectionism returned, hitting me hard. I wanted to make the exact same shapes every time—of the same size and with the same curves (the ruler was one of my closest friends), and I wanted the paintings that decorated my pots to look flawless. I guess that it was a challenge to make the shift to handmade work because of my graphic design background, where I was used to working mostly on my computer. Instead of having the fun I had while doing my ceramic work, I found myself struggling with a lot of self-judgment and the constant need to produce flawless pieces.
Learning about Wabi-Sabi and perfectionism
In the last few years, I’ve been continuously working on changing my mindset and tending to my mental health. I think it is so important that we all be more attentive to our needs and always look for new ways to help ourselves wake up in the morning with positive energy. I knew that something needed to change in my work process—that there was no way I could continue with the habits I had developed for much longer.
I decided to take a step back and give myself the time to figure out what I could change in my work process that would help me have fun and love what I do all over again. Then it finally hit me that my ever-present need for perfection is what was making me miserable. I decided to explore the nature of perfectionism. I had had a book on my shelf for a long time that I never read, it was about Wabi-Sabi, and I knew that it was time to finally learn what it was all about! Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese philosophy and aesthetics that embraces and celebrates the beauty that lies in imperfections. It helps us see the world from a different perspective, which is opposed to how modern society dictates our world view. It teaches us to appreciate the beauty of flaws and to embrace the changes that time brings with it.
This idea opened up an entirely new perspective for me on my work and my life in general. I also discovered a new term: "recovering perfectionist." I learned that many people have been in the same place as me, realizing that perfectionism was holding them back, and then deciding to find ways that would help them eliminate it from their lives.
How this understanding changed my body of work
Feeling inspired, I decided to implement these new ideas in my work. Working with the pottery wheel made me obsessive about creating symmetrical and flawless shapes, so I decided to stop working with it, and I began learning about the ancient hand-building technique called "coiling." This technique helped me stop pursuing perfect precision in the shapes I create. I learned to appreciate the beauty in the asymmetrical and cherish all the finger marks and kiln's 'surprises' that appear during the hand-building work. It helped me fall in love with the process of making ceramics all over again.