I’ve been a perfectionist from day one. In fact, during a routine high school physical, my family doctor said, “Not only do you prefer to have all your ducks in a row, but all feathers have to be laying the same way.”
It makes little sense then that I chose the career I did. Mathematics, science, something that weighs less on the subjective side of the scale would have been smart. Instead, I chose copywriting and its jungle of nuance, opinions and “just a couple tweaks.”
So, my fellow creatively inclined perfectionists, is it possible to maintain sanity? Yes. And the “how” lies in keeping a healthy perspective.
My first dose of perspective came while working as a copywriter for Jacht, the student advertising agency at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. We were in the final stages of a multimedia campaign for one of our largest clients when we got word that someone “high up” had a major issue with the tagline. In less than 24 hours, that tagline needed to be removed or replaced from all work, and already-distributed materials needed to be gathered.
In the midst of that craziness, and my perfectionist brain on Code Red, one of our Jacht mentors Sandy Cranny said, “It’s advertising, not brain surgery. And it’s almost never a life and death situation.”
And a healthy shot of perspective was poured …
A while later, I stumbled upon this paragraph in “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert:
When people talk about their creative work, they often call it their “baby” – which is the exact opposite of taking things lightly. … Guys, please don’t mistake your creative work for a human child, okay? This kind of thinking will only lead you to deep psychic pain.” (232-233)
Guilty. No wonder creatives had a difficult time creating great work without going completely neurotic. We likened our ideas to a human life instead of treating them like what they are: ideas. They’re to be refined, tweaked, even scrapped completely, not nursed and coddled.
Just a few weeks ago, my coworker Heather McCain said, “We’re not saving lives here.” And though it took a few years, I realized my mindset had shifted.
We’re not neurosurgeons; we’re not CIA operatives; we’re not even managing home security systems. We’re creating ads. And while we take immense pride in what we create, and always strive to produce the best, most effective work for clients, no one is living or dying because of what we do. They just aren’t. So maybe, just maybe, we need to take ourselves a little less seriously.
Here’s my gauge: if you’re not enthusiastic about the work you’re creating, maybe you should consider a new career path. But, if every critique makes you consider pulling a Vincent van Gogh and chopping off your ear, it’s time for a good dose of perspective.
Remember, it’s only advertising.
And we’re a lucky bunch to get to call it our day job.