The 1 Thing Better Than Being a Perfectionist

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A popular story in design circles involves an allegedly real experiment by a ceramics professor and his students in which he divided the class into two groups, A and B, for a semester.

Group A was to produce as many pots as possible, whereas group B was to focus on just one each, in order for them to “perfect” it. At the end of the semester, he graded the students’ work and discovered that the highest graded pots were produced by those in group A, which means those pumping out the larger quantity also produced the highest quality. The work of those focused exclusively on one pot suffered.

I’m always suspicious of anecdotes such as these, especially when their virality makes research into their veracity a needle-in-a-haystack search. But it’s no great stretch of the imagination to believe that students with the opportunity to learn from the countless successes and failures of making mountains of pots for a semester were the ones producing the occasional “perfect” one and that those relied upon to produce one perfect pot by semester’s end would feel an immense pressure—and ultimately choke.

READ: Are You a Precious Actor?

Actors auditioning at least five or six times a week will find that they work more often than their counterparts who only go out to castings once every two weeks. As I’ve written before, the one common trait of all who would be considered successful in their chosen field is that they’ve failed more often than anyone else. Their success is in having taken more shots at the target than anyone else.

I have never met a self-proclaimed perfectionist who wasn’t also cursed with a commensurate dose of self-loathing. By definition, nothing is ever good enough for a perfectionist and a perfectionist is always a loner deep down because if perfection is the goal, then nothing and nobody is ever going to be able to satisfy that impractical longing.

Think of a perfectionist that you know personally. Perhaps you’re one yourself. Are they easy to work with? Are they enjoyable to work with? Can they celebrate success when it comes along or is the ending simply a reminder of what might have been done better? Which part of perfectionism do you think is the most appealing in a work colleague? The constant stress, the inevitable disappointment, or the knowledge that there will be no celebratory high five when all the hard work is done?

Every acting role you play is another ceramic pot. Some will be like the dodgy vases kids make for their parents in art class, and some will be grand masterpieces. If you knocked out a hundred pots this year, you’re sure to have at least a few of which you’d be incredibly proud. Stick to only three per year and each one needs to be a slam-dunk. Which they won’t be, because you’re a perfectionist, remember?

There’s one thing more useful, enjoyable, and productive than being a perfectionist and that’s being a professional. A professional works incredibly hard to do the best job he or she can. A professional regularly produces work of a higher standard than others, and a professional pumps out as much content as required, balancing the need for quality and quantity. Professionals push everyone around them to be better and to not rest on their laurels. Professionals cheer others on to the finish line because they know the reward will be sweeter for the extra effort.

When I’m looking for an actor to produce great work, enjoy the job alongside me, and know at the end of a long, hard day that all the sacrifice and sweat was worth it, I won’t hire a perfectionist. I’ll hire a professional.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Paul Barry
Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, author of “Choices,” and a Backstage Expert. Barry runs on-camera classes in Santa Monica as well as online worldwide and conducts a six-week program called Dreaming for a Living, coaching actors, writers, and filmmakers in how to generate online incomes to support their art.
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