Dangerous ideas on the business of life from James Victore

In his new book Feck Perfuction, designer and educator James Victore offers some sage – and sometimes brutal – advice on how to make better creative work and (hopefully) live a happier life. We extract the book here

Feck Perfuction is an entertaining and occasionally anarchic self-help book aimed at creatives, featuring advice on everything from how to get started in your career to finding your own unique creative voice and why – as the title suggests – we should stop seeking perfection.

Below are five pieces of advice from Victore taken from the book, including why we should all start admitting that we don’t know everything, and how the best time to begin a new project is right now.

HAVE A DAMN OPINION

There’s an American gospel song with the powerful refrain, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” We all have that little light. It’s lit by our upbringing and our childhood. It’s our history, our travels, the things we love, and the things we fear. Our little light is our opinion — and it begs to be illuminated.

Sadly, most of us don’t let our light shine, for two reasons: It’s too easy and it’s too hard. It’s too easy because it’s ‘little’. It’s familiar to us. We pooh-pooh our own opinion and don’t see the value of what we have to offer. After all, “Who’d be interested in me or what I have to say or my voice?” It’s too hard because once we acknowledge it, we have to trust it and share it with the world, and we live in fear that someone may not like it.

This is a completely valid fear, because the truth is, not everyone will love your voice. But this division is how you define your audience, how you find the ones who will love you for who you are. If you play it safe and choke back your real voice, you are like a rudderless ship, taking directions from the waves. Your voice is the story you put into everything you do. It’s what sets you apart and makes you and your work memorable. It frees you from following trends or begging for ideas, asking, “What do they want?” Now your most powerful tool is asking yourself, “What do I have to say?”

YOU BECOME WHO YOU PRETEND TO BE

This idea has been around for over 2,000 years and has been said by everyone from Ovid to Kurt Vonnegut. The first time I heard it was from my high school track coach. Coach wanted a few of us to train on the local university’s indoor track — a luxury forbidden to townies. When we reminded him of that rule, he just said, “Act like you own the place”.

Acting! Why didn’t we think of that? We had to cop an attitude — coach said so! In pretending to be brave, we became brave — even if for a short time. This is a practice that has served me well throughout my career. Your attitude creates your reality. With the right attitude, you can become who or what you want. It comes by having faith in yourself, your ideas, and your abilities, and by saying, “I can do this. I belong here.”

By consistently leaning into your fears you create a new way of addressing them. You create a new habit. These habits change your reality. It’s not about ‘faking it’ or presenting a false exterior, but rather, through practice, creating a positive attitude of being. This practice becomes a habit, this habit becomes your life. After all … it’s all just theatre.

FECK PERFUCTION

People are too concerned with the idea of perfection. We crave it at an ironfisted-control-freak-Martha-Stewart level in our lives. And we nearly kill ourselves — or let others kill us — pursuing it at work. Perfection is a head game we play with ourselves — no one outside of our heads really cares about the nitpicky details we stress over.

It works like this: Set unobtainable goals; then, when you don’t achieve them, drive yourself into depression. You can give it a fancy name like ‘True Perfectionist’, but I prefer ‘Self-Hating Narcissist’. On its surface, perfectionism seems like it would be a professional advantage, a creative accelerator. But really, as a driver, it hits the brakes more often than the gas.

Perfectionism stops you from starting projects — or even relationships — because you are not ready. It stops you from finishing projects because they are never quite right. “When it’s perfect!” is our defence, but this habitual overthinking leaves us stymied, unable to get over ourselves and just move. Should you strive for excellence? Of course. Pay attention to the details? Yes. But never let ‘perfect’ stop progress. You know what’s better than perfect? Done. Done is better than perfect.

TEACH YOUR TONGUE TO SAY ‘I DON’T KNOW’

The prominent Jewish scholar and philosopher Maimonides wrote, “Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know’, and ye shall progress.” The Jewish religion places a high value on education and knowledge, so where does this line come in and why do we care about it? Unlike the majority of our everyday thoughts, “I don’t know” is uncertain; it’s admitting to ourselves our frailty, humanity, and humility.

We are open to not having an answer — and certainly not having all of them — so we are free to receive input. Admitting you don’t know is the path to knowledge and even wisdom. Creativity comes from this space as well. Creativity presumes nothing. ‘Reality’ is a suggestion, and we live in a cartoon world where everything and anything is possible. Freed from concrete restraints, we can enter a creative state of not knowing, open to all opportunities, all answers, all realities — a world of questions instead of rote, knee-jerk answers.

When we allow ourselves this childlike view, we’re open to a rich universe of imagery and ideas to play with. Questioning is the definitive tool for creativity. My pal Richard Wilde runs the design department of the School of Visual Arts in New York. Every year he asks his students a simple question: “Is there life on other planets?” The majority of their responses have to do with percentages of possibilities vis-à-vis numbers of stars, something Carl Sagan said, and a lot of other bullshit. Only those open and honest with themselves are able to say, “I don’t know”. This is the only true answer.

JUST START

Most people start by stopping. An utterly genius idea pops into your head — start a business, write a story, quit your crappy job — and you let it die a death of inertia. You fail to start. This makes complete sense; as Newton’s first law tells us, an object at rest — like your ass — tends to stay at rest.

For any creation, any new project or new move in your life, starting is the hardest part. Too many of us are waiting to start. But while you are waiting, others are already living the life you want — the only difference between them and you is that they started. There are no special instructions, and no one is standing in your way but you. Don’t think, don’t rationalise, just do. Start and don’t stop — coz momentum is your friend.

Feck Perfuction by James Victore is published by Abrams & Chronicle Books, priced £13.00; abramsandchronicle.co.uk

DESIGN ASSISTANT

Wandsworth, London

ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE

102 Petty France, London

ART DIRECTOR

Brighton, East Sussex