Clean Thinking

Addressing a perfectionist’s fear

Perfectionists might be afraid of failing, but sometimes, I wonder if they just don’t want to figure stuff out in public, if they are private learners.

Figuring stuff out is a sordid, twisted process. It’s full of fits and starts, dead ends – lots of dead ends. It’s terribly messy! Often, the messier it is, the more learning happens.

Sometimes, perfectionists are afraid to let others see their messy process, and they only want to present the finished product, tied with a bow.

But here is what I want my perfectionists to know: We are learning at all times, even when you don’t particularly want to, and even when you feel like all the heavy learning ended when school ended.

If you talk to people, if you are reading, if you are listening to conversations or whatever is on Netflix, if you are just walking around, you are taking in information and your brain is constantly organizing it. Your brain is organizing the mess. Your brain is figuring it out.


The messiness of learning is not limited to high profile projects, or assignments at work, or parenting, or taking care of elderly parents, or being there for your friends. It’s a complex process, always – even for the simplest things.

If one of your goals is mastery of a topic, you need to be able to learn more efficiently, which means you need to let people into your messy learning process to give them confidence that you’re figuring it out, and at times, to accept their help in jumping into the mess with you.

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