Life, Picasso, and Petty Perfectionism

By Coach Izzy

On Sunday January 16th, 2011 my wife Kat and I had the privilege of attending the Picasso Exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. I have always admired his work but never got the chance to see it up close and personal until now. We, along with many others, stood in line for nearly 3 hours for tickets and had to wait another 5 before finally entering the exhibition.

There was a lot more to it than painting, drawing, or sculpting. I understood why his work is so powerful and draws millions around the world. There are lessons for every aspect of life and the wisdom left behind by a great man who taught us through his work that life is a journey of learning, excellence, and enjoyment.

On a more personal aspect, it helped me gather strength to overcome a personal barrier.  You see, I always thought of myself as a perfectionist and while at times it is an excellent trait to have, it deteriorated into what I refer to as “Petty Perfectionism”, something that had a negative effect on my productivity. Projects, papers, tasks, endeavors got started with great excitement only to come to a screeching halt when petty perfectionism demanded unrealistic standards.

That was the fate of many articles that never saw public light. After creating the outline, I proceeded no further just because I was not happy with the title.  The petty obsession of finding the perfect title created a mental block, leading to frustration and finally disposal of something that never materialized.

Other projects saw similar fate, but darn it! I was a perfectionist and everything had to be perfect.  Petty perfectionism was sapping the enjoyment out of every activity and giving me nearly nothing in return for the amount of time invested.

Then a couple years ago I met with a couple successful business entrepreneurs who covered the topic in good detail. I, being human, felt the pain of reality revealing itself and got defensive.  I tried justifying my weakness by calling them mediocre, How could they settle for anything less than perfection?  The truth was stinging my pride and I was trying to save face.  I immediately checked their works, intent on finding proof to the consequences of striving for anything less than perfection.  What I found instead was an abundance of excellent content, well organized material, and not a hint of what I would refer to as mediocre.

There might something to this letting go of petty perfectionism after all.

It is called growing pains for a reason.  Changing our set patterns is uncomfortable and takes us out of our safe zone.  After much struggle, I decided to give it a shot and complete my first EBook.  It wasn’t until I produced the first edition of “The Magnificent 7 and a Killer Kettlebell Body in 5 Weeks” when I realized how futile and unproductive this petty perfectionism of mine was and how much it had prevented from achieving.  Oh the irony of getting nothing done because the thoughts of accomplishing a lot are killed by the insatiable hunger of details brought up by petty perfectionism.

I would love to say that at that moment my life changed at once and for good, but that was not the case.  The EBook was well received and everyone loved it but the petty perfectionist was cynic and thought people were just being nice. The petty perfectionist took constructive feedback as proof that striving for anything less than “perfection” was futile. I was fighting over two decades of a set-habit and it was not going resolve that in a couple of months.

At the same time, the practical side loved the level of productivity and the satisfaction of getting projects completed. More could be done in less time without compromising quality. I recognized the struggle and the desire to be more productive made me seek the advice of accomplished speakers, authors, and entrepreneurs; people whose success I wanted for my own life.  The words of powerful speakers like Les Brown and Anthony Robbins reminded me of where I should set my focus.  The productivity of successful fitness entrepreneurs like Craig Ballantyne, Mike Mahler, and Vincent DelMonte was my inspiration.  All of them concurred; perfectionism can drive you to futility and destroy productivity.  Learning to let go and killing the old habit would be a battle.

And then the Picasso exhibition came to town.

Picasso’s priority was giving life to his inspiration and vision, even if it went against the flow. The strokes in many of his paintings were irregular; some of them were not even completed but that did NOT matter. Nobody cared and they did not detract from the beauty and message of his work.  In fact, that is how Picasso intended them to be.  The same traits were seen in many of his sculptures.  The “perfect” bodyshop style painting was virtually non-existent and the works were covered in just enough pigmentation to provide with a sense of hue.

And then there were his drawings.  Not a hint of hesitation or sketchy lines.  The lines flowed from one aspect to the next with certainty, mastery, and purpose.  They were as close to perfection as they could get. Even upon close inspection, the lines still showed their harmony. The master himself had made it clear that the purpose of his work was enjoyment and inspiration and whatever meaning people found was an entirely individual experience. His work was not about being perfect but expressing and that is why still rules supreme.

At that moment I started thinking about the futility of perfectionism.  After all, easing on it allowed me to prioritize my focus and energy and complete the project on time and to the satisfaction of hundreds of readers.

Was it perfect? No, but is anything ever? I remembered instances in which people let opportunities pass them by because they felt the time was not “perfect”.  I also remembered how not one of them ever said “letting that opportunity pass was the right thing to do”.  In fact, it was always the opposite as regret on not taking on a unique chance made them realize that opportunity was gone.

Does that mean that we should never seek perfectionism?

Not at all!  We need a good dosage to help us accomplish valuable goals. You want your surgeon to strive for perfection, not just good enough.  If you are a diver you want your gear to be in perfect working condition, not just close enough. Your life depends on it.   There are instances in which we in fact, need to strive for it.  However, when it gets to the point in which the focus shifts to the petty details, you will find it interfering with productivity.

That does not mean we should settle for less than what we can accomplish.  There is something we can do which can take us close to perfection without the destructive obsessive effects.  We can always strive to achieve our best and then improve it!  Yes, you can always improve upon your best effort. As you learn more and accumulate more life experience, your work will also evolve.  That is the reason the EBook went under two revisions and had a 3rd major one just completed.  None of this would’ve been possible had the petty perfectionist been the dominant person.

I have followed the same approach with other aspects of my life which has led me to a pleasant outcome; simplicity.  If there is anything that will make your work productive and delivering more (as close to perfect as it can get) is simplicity.  The petty perfectionist mind complicates the simple with unnecessary details.

It is still a battle to embrace simplicity but the results always justify me.  By keeping it simple and letting go of perfectionism, I keep delivering and keep improving upon what is accomplished.  I hope you too my friend can find freedom from whatever trivialities are preventing you from achieving what you want in life and seek the never-ending path of improvement.

I’ll see you on the exercise floor

About The Author


Coach Izzy has been part of the Strength and Conditioning field for over 25 years. He speaks of the advantages of self-sufficiency and the drawbacks of relying on the liner approaches the health world seems fond of.