Circular Podcast – Season 3 Episode 5
Welcome to season three of Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which we’re exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice that enables you, your business and the planet to thrive. We’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and paradigm shifts that we need to embrace in order to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy.
In this episode, Katie talks about perfectionism, about:
- Liberating yourself from perfectionism, the second part of the first pillar of the MDC framework
- Her personal journey with perfectionism including publishing her first foray into the online learning and recording a podcast
- The idea of toxic professionalism – the sense that any deviation from a white, straight, cis, tall, able-body bodied man in a suit is seen as unprofessional – and the similarities between this and perfectionism – the sense of perfect being dictated by other people
- The shift needed towards an acceptance of imperfection in sustainability work
- How to be an ‘imperfectionist’, understanding that the outcome will actually be better by letting go of perfectionism by embracing vulnerability, about taking risks and showing the cracks
Below is a transcript of our conversation. Find the full episode available to listen on Spotify here.
Welcome to season three of Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which I’m exploring what it takes to cultivate a creative practice that enables you, your business and the planet to thrive. I’ll be diving deep into the nuances, complexities and paradigm shifts that we need to embrace in order to bring about a just transition to a more circular economy.
What do we tend to think of as perfect, something that is flawless, something that’s consistent perhaps and often, when we think about objects, those things are mass produced, they’re machine made, they come from a globalised economy. And yet, as designer makers, craftspeople and artists, you are used to embracing imperfection, and yet in our sustainability work, we feel the need to get it right, to be perfect. But do we want sustainability work that is informed by machines, by consistency, by globalisation, by mass production, or do we want sustainable thinking that is informed by the human hand, by nature?
Welcome to this episode of Circular with Katie Treggiden, in which we’re talking about perfectionism. Now, I’ve just recorded the episode and I was just about to brief the lovely Kirsty, my tech VA, to edit out all the bits where I tripped over my words. I’m quite tired this afternoon so I did that a lot. But you know what we’re talking about perfectionism, embracing vulnerability, so I’m going to be really brave and I’m going to ask her to send out this episode, unedited. So I was just about to say, forgive me for the trips, but I’m not gonna say that. Here it is unedited, imperfect, vulnerable, enjoy it and let me know what you think.
MAIN PODCAST – PART 1
Today I want to talk about perfectionism. So the second pillar of the first circle of the Making Design Circular framework is Liberate, and that is all about liberating yourself from guilt and duty, which we talked about in the Absolve episode. So the idea that the climate crisis is not your fault so you can let go of that guilt and that sense of should, but also about liberating yourself from perfectionism. And I want to dedicate a whole episode to perfectionism because it is such a meaty topic and I am a recovering perfectionist so, I am going to share some personal stories. The first of which is my first foray into the online learning space.
After I published my book Wasted: When Trash Becomes Treasure in October 2020, I developed a masterclass that came out of the ideas I’d started exploring in that book. It’s called Waste: A Masterclass and it now lives within Making Design Circular my membership, but it started life as a scrappy, beta version. So literally when you signed up for this programme, you would receive a bunch of emails, the course lived nowhere other than in those emails. And in those emails you would get a link to a video which was hosted on Dropbox and I would say something like listen from minute 3:50, sort of three minutes 50 seconds to 15 minutes and 22 seconds and ignore the bit afterwards, because that’s an interview I did with the same person about something else. It was that scrappy. I always remember there was a bit when I was interviewing Yinka Ilori and I fluffed the introduction like three or four times in a row and this was all in there, right? These were completely unedited and then you would get links to workbooks and kind of various bits and bobs in your inbox. It was scrappy AF. And it was a beta run so I’d kind of given myself permission for it to be scrappy. And then once those daring and wonderful humans who went through that beta version with me, completed that course and gave me a bunch of feedback, I created the “proper” version of Waste: A Masterclass, in which they were edited videos, edited videos, spitting out my words, in which they were edited videos, and everything was hosted on a proper learning platform. I think the first iteration was on something called the Thinkific so you could sort of see how far you’d gotten, it was all proper. What was interesting is when I showed the students from that beta run the proper version, they all prefer the original. They all prefer the scrappy, imperfect version. What was more interesting is in talking to them and having the kind of vulnerable open conversations we had when I was turning up so imperfectly. It turned out that actually what they needed was not just the information in that course, they also needed permission to be imperfect themselves. And so accidentally, I was teaching them an entirely different lesson. And actually, that’s where a lot of this framework and the foundations of what was to become Making Design Circular came from.
So that was a real lesson for me, a recovering perfectionist, who, once upon a time would not have released that until it was perfect. In fact, full disclosure, the first two series of this podcast, I recorded the entire series, all 12, or however many episodes, edited them did all the show notes and all the artwork before I even told anybody that podcast existed, because I was so terrified that something might go wrong before you know sort of once I’d released into the world. This series, as you might be able to tell, is being done a lot more imperfectly. And I think that’s quite exciting, because I think we sort of connect at our points of imperfection and vulnerability. So perfectionism is not the pursuit of excellence, it’s something different from that. It’s this idea that if you show up in a way that is perfect, you won’t be criticised or rejected or hurt.
So for example, one of my beliefs was that if I went to Oxford, and I got a distinction and a master’s in the History of Design, nobody would ever be able to tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about. So I did that. I went to Oxford, I got a distinction in a master’s in the History of Design and then I started writing an opinion column for Dezeen and you know what, in the comments section of that people told me, I don’t know what I’m talking about all the time, risk of being female with opinions. So it doesn’t matter how quote unquote, perfect your achievements are, you are still open to criticism and rejection, and hurts. And it’s interesting, I can remember submitting an article to Design Milk that had a typo in it and the editor mentioned it to me, and I was absolutely mortified filled with shame. I’m ruminated over it for weeks and weeks afterwards. And I’ve just submitted the transcript for my newest book Broken, which is going to be out in April. So my publisher Ludion, and I can’t remember why we were talking about typos, and my editor just said, “Well, that’s why we have proofreaders Katie” and I just suddenly realised there was no expectation for me to submit a perfect transcript. It just had to represent my thoughts and my opinions and my research, and it was someone else’s job to make sure it was as perfect as can be. I’m sure that I can’t, I can never look too closely because we are all human, typos exist.
So I started to think about kind of what is it we mean by perfect anyway. And I think Ray Dodd, who I will have on this podcast soon, because she’s wonderful on this stuff, talks about the idea of toxic professionalism, and the fact that what we understand as professional, is as close to a white straightist, tall, slim, able bodied man in a suit as you can get to that’s the kind of perception we have of professional. And I can remember working with a girl who had curly hair, she was Italian, she had curly hair, and in her appraisal, she got told that her hair was unprofessional. And we were sort of trying to unpick how on earth someone’s hair could be unprofessional. But now, I’ve sort of learned a lot from Ray and also understood, particularly the issues that black women have with being professional at work, this sense that any deviation from that idea of what we deem as professional is seen as unprofessional. And I think it’s a similar thing with perfection, there’s this sense of, of perfect being dictated by other people.
I can remember two specific examples when my Mum told me that she was proud of me and I know she will be listening to this going “I tell you that all the time Katie, stop talking nonsense” so apologies in advance Mum. I can remember two specific examples. One was when she met me from London. One was when she met me for lunch when I used to work in advertising, and I happened to be wearing a suit that day. I think I’d done a pitch that morning. And we were having lunch and she suddenly said I’m really proud of you, you know, completely out of the blue. And another time was when I did a Milkshake interview for Design Milk about my latest book. And I happened to be wearing a suit jacket. And afterwards she said “God that interview was so good, it made me cry, I’m so proud of you.” And now I’m sure my Mum will tell you there are other things connecting those two examples, but it always struck me that I was wearing a suit in both of them. Now I am a writer. One of the things I love most about this job is that a sloppy jumper and jeans, which is in fact what I wearing right now, is the uniform of writers, right? I don’t have to wear a suit anymore. But somehow, in my Mum’s mind, and in a lot of people’s mind, if you’re a successful person, you wear a suit. So are these there are these sorts of ideas of what professional looks like and it’s not always aligned with what we want out of life, right? I don’t want to wear suit particularly. There are occasions when a sharp suit and a pair of trainers kind of works for me, but often not. And so I think there’s this sense of a sort of ever changing, externally defined idea of perfect, and so you can’t ever reach it, right? There’s no point when everybody in the world is going to agree. Yeah, you’re perfect. You nailed it, you can relax now. So it makes it a really a wildly difficult to define thing that is impossible to achieve.
And it’s interesting that perfectionism correlates with many mental health issues, and in fact, it’s one of the few things that correlates right across the board with all sorts of mental health issues, from burnout, to anxiety, and even right through to suicidal ideation, and even in really young kids. Because we can’t ever achieve it and yet we feel like we’re being judged by it. And in fact, the difference between perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence, is that perfectionism is all about negative self-talk and internal criticism, and a real lack of forgiveness.
So they did some research, in which people were separated into whether or not they had perfect perfectionist tendencies and both assigned the same task. What they weren’t told was that it was not possible to successfully complete that task. Both groups put just as much, just as much effort in the perfectionists quit first, because their lack of success was hurting them more. It wasn’t just a case of, I’ve got that wrong, I’ll try something else. It was a case of I got that wrong, I am bad. And, you know, this is something Brene Brown talks about in terms of the difference between guilt and shame. And it’s a similar kind of demarcation between the pursuit of excellence and perfectionism. So it’s not the same thing. It is this idea of an unforgiving, endless pursuit of something which ultimately is not achievable.
AD BREAK WITH INHABIT
We’re going to take a short break now to do three things. One, I want you to hear from Inhabit the brand partner for this season of the podcast. They’re actually the hotel I stay in when I’m in London, because they are super sustainable and absolutely gorgeous. I reached out to them and asked them if they would be interested in helping me make this season of the podcast happen and I’m delighted that they said yes, so there’s a short word from them. There’s a short word from me about making design circular, the membership group that I run, and I also want to talk to you about Surfers Against Sewage.
So I am a member of 1% for the planet, which means that every year I donate 1% of my turnover, not profit, to an environmental charity and the charity I’ve chosen to partner with is surfers against sewage, which is a grassroots environmental charity that campaigns to protect the ocean and everything that the ocean makes possible. It was created in 1990 by a group of Cornish surfers fighting to clean up the sea that was making them sick. Now surfers against sewage campaigns on everything that threatens the ocean. Plastic pollution, the climate, emergency environmental exploitation and water quality by taking action on the ground, that triggers change from the top.
If like me, you’d like to support surfers against sewage, head over to https://www.sas.org.uk/ and I will leave you now to hear a short message from Inhabit, a message from me about the membership, and then we’ll dive right back into this episode.
Inhabit hotels, located in the Bayswater area of London, offers restorative environmentally and socially conscious places to stay in the city. Wellness and wellbeing also play a major part in the brand’s ethos Mindfully designed for the modern traveller everything at this new hotel has been considered with a genuine commitment to environmental initiatives and meaningful community partnerships. To find out more please check out our Instagram at inhabit_hotels.
If you’re a designer maker, here’s what I want you to know. None of this is your fault. Climate change, ocean acidification, falling biodiversity levels, none of it. But you do get to be part of the solution. And the best part that gets to be creative, collaborative, and filled with wide eyed curiosity. Remember that? Visit www.katietreggiden.com/membership and leave your eco guilt at the door. Find a community of fellow travellers clear actionable steps you can take today and all support you need to join the circular economy. Visit www.katietreggiden.com/membership. I’ll see you there.
MAIN PODCAST – PART 2
I think the other thing that’s interesting to look at is what do we tend to think of perfect as, something that is lawless, something that’s consistent perhaps. And often, when we think about objects, those things are mass produced. They’re machine made. They come from a globalised economy. And yet, as designer makers, craftspeople and artists, you are used to embracing imperfection, right, the throwing rings in a pot are the sign of a human hand, the knots in wood are the sign of a natural material. And we talk about embracing these imperfections, because they’re human, because they’re natural and yet in our sustainability work, we feel the need to get it right to be perfect. But do we want sustainability work that is informed by machines, by consistency, by globalisation, by mass production, or do we want sustainable thinking that is informed by the human hand, by nature? And so I think there is a real shift needed in an acceptance of imperfection and sustainability work as well a more nature led way of thinking. So, if we are embracing the idea that we want to accept imperfection, and become imperfectionist, rather than perfectionist. Because I think a lot of the problem with this stuff is that perfectionism is a bit of a badge of honour. But that is problematic, we need to work out how, right so I think the first is kind of really getting into our bones, the fact that letting go of perfectionism is not the same as letting go of quality standards.
So there’s a really interesting study done at a university with a group of photography students, and I’ll pop a link in the show notes, James Clear mentions it in his book Atomic Habits. Half of the students were told that they would be graded on the quantity of photographs they produced. So on a scale of A to F, if they produce two photos, they’re going to get an F, if they produce hundreds of photos, then we’re getting an A, and everything in between. Didn’t matter how good or bad photos were just the more photos the higher grade. Another group were told that they would be judged solely on quality. So they could submit one photo if they wanted. But it would have to be near perfect to get an A. Now, interestingly, the photos that were of better quality, the higher quality, better photos came from the quantity group, not the quality group. So even the group tasked with achieving quality weren’t producing as good or photos as the group tasked with producing quantity.
I think this is fascinating, because we’ve always been led to believe that if we hold ourselves to these high standards, we’re more likely to achieve them. Actually, it’s not true, we are more likely to achieve high standards, if we play and experiment and do something a lot because we’re not frightened of getting it wrong. And so I think in order to achieve what we need to achieve in sustainability, right, in order to make progress, we need to not be frightened of getting it wrong, we need to do it a lot, we need to do it playfully the same things apply.
I think the first thing is we need to believe in our bones that we will be better at what we do if we let go with perfectionism, which is frightening and counterintuitive, like so much of this work, but ultimately true. And I know going right back to that example, I shared at the beginning that Making Design Circular was a better product than that perfect waste masterclass because I went through that process of being vulnerable of being imperfect of sharing me mucking up, because it allowed people to connect with me as a human, not some slick, shiny, frightening person and it also opened up conversations about what people really needed from me. So I have shown that to be true. It will be interested to see how this series the podcast does, because this series, the podcast is definitely way more imperfect than the first two, so this will be an interesting experiment. But it’s about having the guts to play and experiment, right? That is part of this stuff.
So how to be an imperfectionist. It’s about understanding that the outcome will be better by letting go of perfectionism is about embracing vulnerability, about taking risks, showing the cracks, you’ll have much more interesting conversations if you’re willing to admit the bits you don’t know and the bits you don’t understand and ask questions, than if you are trying to kind of come across as this all knowing human.
I think there’s that sense of there’s a phrase in the online business world which is launch ugly. And that’s exactly what I did with the waste masterclass, right. So getting things out into the world when you’re not quite happy with them yet, in order to learn and build and grow. I think there’s something really important about letting go of that unforgiving, critical voice in your head. So when something goes wrong, it doesn’t make you a bad person and it’s a question about, okay, what can I learn from that? How can I do it better next time, but I’m still okay, I’m still safe, I am still a good human, despite the fact I submitted an article with a typo in it, or whatever it is, right. I wasted so much time and energy on the shame storm that came out of that typo in that article that could have been spent, you know, brainstorming ideas for new articles, writing, you know, all that energy could have been put into something so much more productive.
And then the last thing I think, is celebrating your wins, even if they’re not the end goal, right? Finding the things that are good about the thing you’ve done. So I have various things that happen in my business. And when they when they happen, I put on a certain song and dance around my studio and that’s a way of getting that win into my business. And it’s not necessarily hitting a big goal, or, you know, submitting the final transcript of my book. It might be, so my latest book has 25 to 30 profiles in it so I celebrated every time I finished writing a profile rather than, you know, just that end goal of the book. So I think those are some things that you can start to do to let imperfection into your life. And I think it’s incredibly important that we do.
I would love to hear about your imperfections, send me a DM on Instagram, and let me know where you have embodied some of this stuff in your work, where you’ve allowed yourself to show up imperfectly, and what the outcomes have been. I would really love to hear about that, or share them on your stories and tag me in however you want to do it. I would love to see this ripple effect of imperfection going across the designer maker universe. And let’s do sustainability, imperfectly, because the planet doesn’t need a few of us doing this perfectly. It needs all of us trying and failing and trying again doing it imperfectly getting it wrong and then getting it right. That is how we are going to solve this climate crisis that we find ourselves in. So done is better than perfect, progress over perfection for the win. I want to see you all out there in the world being imperfect. Let me know how you get on.
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed what you’ve heard, follow me on Instagram @KatieTreggiden.1 And if you’re a designer maker who’s interested in sustainability, DM me a little recycling symbol and I’ll add you to my close friends group, which is especially for sustainable designer makers.
You might want to sign up to my E-newsletter via the link in the show notes. And it would be amazing if you could follow or review the podcast in whichever platform you’re listening on, that really helps other people to find it, so that’s super helpful.
I want to say one last thank you to Inhabit my gorgeous brand partner for this season who have helped bring it to life and I also want to give a shout out to the Ko-Fi supporters from the initiative that we did in series two. So Kathryn Kernow, Bob Shankley, Eleanor Burke, Vicky Pulter, Leslie Curtis, Val Muddyman, David Clarke and Nolan Giles all bought me a virtual coffee to help with the production of season three.
And last but not least, I want to say a huge thank you to Kirsty Spain whose production skills you are listening to as I speak.
Thank you so much for listening.
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