The curse of perfectionism

First, I want to make something very clear: when I say that I'm a perfectionist, I do not mean that everything I do is in fact perfect, nor that I think it is. Far from it. It is merely the perpetual struggle for "perfection" that is largely like a curse. It's about never feeling fully satisfied with what you do. It's about remaking something over and over again and throwing the old away, or polishing it to absurdity. It's also about not doing a whole bunch of things. What you see in the finished product is the result of consciously not doing so many things. (Almost anyone can copy a finished product, but that's completely missing the point.)
Here's an example. Let's say you are overseeing the construction of a new underground (subway) system. You know for sure that one side of the cars will always face the wall, thus never be shown to the passengers. Do you still bother painting that side, even though it will be "wasted" efforts and money? I would. The knowledge of having skipped one side would drive me insane. It wouldn't feel symmetric. One could argue that's stupid and sub-optimal use of the funding, especially if it's not out of your own pocket, but that's overshadowed by the satisfaction of knowing that the job was properly done.
Of course, nothing can ever really be perfect, but you can get pretty damn close, at least given the context of an imperfect world. Just because it's not technically possible to achieve absolute perfection, you shouldn't aim for "good enough". The entire world is full of "good enough" kind of people, and it's one of the major reasons why it sucks so much.
Frequently, the only way I can get something "done" is to essentially give up on a number of ideas to only "perfect" a subset of the original vision. And then, it's not ever really "finished". I'll continue brushing up obscure details for a long time or until it becomes too impractical or impossible. One good example is my little game Utmeskiten. It's not even 1k lines of code, but at the time of writing, it's been almost half a year since its release, and I've made many minimal updates, mostly concerning things around it rather than the actual game code (but still). It's an extremely simple game and one could expect me to have "finished" it in no time at all and then never touch it again. The fact that it runs in a Web browser only makes it easier for me to obsess about details, as opposed to traditional software that you have to download and install to run.
In the case just mentioned, I'm aware of multiple things that could improve its speed and fix the timer issues. Yet I have not changed those. I can't really explain why. I don't want to change the game from how it was at release (or at least how it intended to be), but I do want to fix a different "kind" of bugs as I encounter them, often while working on other things. The full-screen button, for instance, which I created as an add-on for the page on which the game runs. It doesn't change the actual game at all.
As a child, I created a lot of things, both on the computer and physically. I believe that you can't be that productive while still being a perfectionist, and I don't remember ever considering the imperfections beyond being aware of and annoyed by my own lack of knowledge. I simply created all kinds of stuff and would constantly have several different projects going on at the same time, as I wanted to do everything. As time passed, I started becoming more and more aware of the flaws, and would start getting into "mental blocks". This has only got worse, but in a way, it's a relief to at least be able to focus on doing fewer things right rather than attempting to do everything just for the sake of it.
The world is full of truly awful, tasteless creations, made by people who do things for the wrong reasons, in the wrong manner. There are also some very skilled people out there who I genuinely admire, but they are certainly in a small minority. Whether or not people appreciate what I do, I know that I won't ever be part of the crowd that does things with the mindset that I despise.
If you want my respect, be a real person and do things right. They don't have to be "perfect" — just genuine and honest. Don't settle for mediocre, generic crap, but always aim high relative to your current skills. I think that's the key to feeling good about something you make.

Now what?

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Published 2012-11-26.