Prior to graduation, I was always pushing myself to be perfect. No matter what I was doing, such as designing, programming, doing sports, and writing, I’ve always strived to complete the task to perfection; to the point where I’d have no regrets, and be able to look at myself in the mirror and feel especially proud.

I’d be immersed in my pride that the joy would last for months. But this approach was a hinder for me to become professional.

Yes, I was overachiever and still am. Thanks to a friend in my college years for giving me that recognition. I’ve never even thought about the term overachiever until one day he said in class after our professor announced a project deadline, “Of course Kevin can do it, he’s an overachieving bastard.”

Although I knew he said it with sarcasm, I could careless. I’d been a perfectionist all my life and since no one told me anything negative about it, I thought it was the greatest skill to have. It seemed very well received, especially among the people I worked with. I got to be the role model.

But I was wrong.

In the real world where you have to figure everything out by yourself, what you want to do for a living, how you want to live your life and who do you want to ultimately become, perfection is a large obstacle.

What I Discovered

During my journey to become a professional designer, I discovered being perfect actually hinders the road to becoming a pro. I learned that perfection can lead you to waste a large amount of time and can slow down my learning.

When I started as a designer, one skill I had to learn was to illustrate a sketch concept as fast as possible, but still beautiful enough that the concept sells.

It was strange to me at first because I knew that something appealing required a decent amount of time to execute. How could one possibly achieve the same result in half the time, or less?

Little did I know that the answer lies in who I was selling the concept to.

Quite frankly designers are born to be perfectionist. We are very poor at judging the amount of time it requires to complete a work. Because there’s always a reason to make it better.

Before showing others our work, we want it to be as best as it could be. Somehow we have a strong belief that the work we show is a reflection of who we are, and how good our skills are.

The only ways for us to stop are either someone telling us to stop, or that we are sick of continue working on the design.

But I soon found out that there’s actually a third way – understanding who am I selling the concept to.

When I’m rendering a concept, I can make the whole illustration process last forever. Because in my mind, I have to make it look magnificent before I can sell the idea. But there’s a certain point when the rendering is already fully conveying the concept idea.

If I carry on rendering, the idea doesn’t become better. I’m just making it look prettier. And most of the time, product designers are really selling a wonderful idea through amazing designs – not so much how well it’s rendered. Great illustration is just a form of marketing. It isn’t required to describe a design concept since great design speaks for itself.

Therefore, to the person I’m selling the concept, if the idea sucks, the rendering sucks. If the idea is awesome, even if the rendering looks mediocre to my eyes, it’s still the best idea.

There were times when I thought the renderings I showed were not on par with my standard, but I had to get it done because time was running out.

Filled with anxiety, I slowly revealed the concept to the client hoping they wouldn’t notice the missing shadow on the breakline. To my surprise, the client loved it. And to make myself feel even worse, the client didn’t even talk about the quality of the rendering at all! Every comment was based on how much they liked the idea.

Eventually after a couple of projects, I was able to render my concepts to near perfection and create higher quality work in a shorter amount of time.

Let’s Take A Closer Lookperfection-professional-car

What do you see? A sports car in both sketches.

The only difference is the quality of the drawing. The left one is very child-like and demonstrates limited sketching ability; the right one, on the other hand, is a little more refined and demonstrates a better artistic skill.

Now, the most interesting part.

The left one took 3 seconds to draw, while the right one took 3 minutes.

However, both of them are easily recognized as a car. And therefore, both sketches are successful at conveying the idea that it’s a sports car.

The key lesson is, when you’re learning to become a pro, you have to aim for the ultimate goal you want to achieve with the new skill in order to maximize the learning speed and effectiveness. Once you achieve your goal with a few practice, then you can pursue on becoming better.

If you want to describe a sports car, draw the one on the left. Eventually you will figure out what elements constitute a sports car and what lines can be changed to make it look better. Soon enough you’ll be able to draw the car on the right with interesting design.

Hacks You Can Learn Now

Here are some examples of learning something and then becoming a pro that I’d like to share:

To be fluent in Japanese

  1. Initial Goal: Able to order a dish in a restaurant, say “excuse me”, ask for a check, say “thank you”
  2. How to Get Better: Ask for food recommendations, compliment on the food

To become a cook

  1. Initial Goal: Able to make scrambled eggs, toasted bread with butte, simple fruits dessert
  2. How to Get Better: Make omelette, french toast and fruits yogurt parfait

To become a great writer

  1. Initial Goal: Convince readers of your thoughts and perspective using only simple words
  2. How to Get Better: Add fancy vocabs and play around with writing structure to make it more exciting

To become a game programmer

  1. Initial Goal: Make a simple 2 players tic-tac-toe
  2. How to Get Better: Add an AI player, add a timer for each turn, add animation, add a high score table

To become a graphics designer

  1. Initial Goal: Make a poster for something you like, i.e a favorite singer
  2. How to Get Better: Play with color schemes, font type and sizes, rearrange layout based on dominant, subdominant and accent

So…

When you start out to become really good at something, don’t jump straight into making everything perfect. Find an initial result that you want to achieve and then do whatever is necessary to get to the result.

When learning to speak a language, don’t try to make your pronunciation sound like a native from the get-go. Learn a couple of everyday phrases that you’d use, approach people with those phrases and then brush up on your pronunciation and clarity.

When you persist on delivering your goals, perfection comes naturally. Through consistent delivery, professionalism comes automatically.