How’re you feeling about your business and where it’s headed?
Hunky dory? Or just hunky? Is there a nagging voice in the back of your head screaming that your projects will never be Grade-A material? Are you constantly taking one course after another in order to get to the place of I-Know-What-the-Hell-I’m-Doing so you can launch that thing already?
Or, maybe you just hate to delegate? Still doing everything yourself (mostly because finding and training someone to do it right would cost you more in time and money than it’s “worth” to your sanity)?
I have news for you, my friend.
You’re a perfectionist.
(And YOU are your own worst enemy.) If you’re like the rest of the humans on this planet, you will — from time to time — find yourself in despair over your progress (or, lack thereof).
After all, just look around you — there’s a crap ton of people who are so much farther ahead than you. He’s got three times as many Facebook fans. And she’s got a list that’s twice the size of yours. The over-achiever in you wants to be The Best. Perfect. A True Example of How to Do This Thing Called Building a Business.
And you may not want to admit it, but when you see someone else succeeding — in spite of the fact that their stuff isn’t polished to a high grade shine — you get a teensy bit jealous.
I get it. Those thoughts plague me too, on occasion. I confess: when I look in the mirror, I’ve yet to see myself as a bad ass unicorn. More often than I’d like to admit, I see all the lumps, bumps and bloated ideas that need work. The processes that need streamlining. And the To Do list that I’m avoiding…
Causes of Perfectionism (I know whereof I speak)
Those of us with the perfectionist gene usually learned early in life that other people valued us because of how much we accomplished or achieved. In my family, getting straight A’s in school was the default expectation. If we missed that mark, there was something very very wrong.
Or at least, that’s what I thought. And I took that mindset with me into adulthood. Maybe you did, too?
In business (and especially online) we see countless messages about how to “Get 10,000 Fans,” “Make 6 Figures in 60 Days,” and “Explode the size of our email lists overnight.”
These headlines imply (in not-so-subtle ways) that unless we’ve got a huge following, we’re big fat failures. We base our self-worth (and by extension, our level of success) on external standards. Which means we become overly sensitive to the opinions and criticism of others — even when that criticism is a voice in our own head.
Here’s what you need to know: Perfectionism is just a self-defense mechanism. It’s there to protect us from slanderous assaults and defend us against things like bankruptcy, homelessness or simple rejection. It’s the worn out blankey we keep in our back pocket to feel safe.
The big problem? Perfectionism also keeps us from “shipping” the projects we need to finish if we ever want to make money. And it keeps us in “shoulding” on ourselves (see that list of To Do items that shows up every time you try to relax) when we’d be better off just getting some stuff done.
What to do About Perfectionism
Like all great first steps to recovery, the best way to begin your shift is to really see how perfectionism impedes your growth. In short, you begin with awareness. After that, you might find some of the following strategies helpful:
- Set realistic and reachable goals based on your own wants and needs — not on what you see “out there.” If you don’t know what you want, it might be time for a little self-reflection. Or a lot. And the only way to get that done is to make an appointment with yourself to do the work. A great place to start is my Find Your Secret Sauce class.
- Set new goals just outside your comfort zone (not someone else’s). As you reach a goal, set your next goal one level beyond your present level of accomplishment. You want a bit of a stretch but not something that’s so crazy scary you can’t act.
- Experiment with your ideas about success. Choose any activity and instead of aiming for 100 percent, try for 90 percent, 80 percent, or even 60 percent success. This will help you see that the world doesn’t end when you’re not perfect.
- Focus more on the journey, less on the destination. Enjoy the process more by making a conscious effort to stay present. Be curious. What can you learn from what’s happening? Evaluate your success not only in terms of what you accomplish but also by how much you enjoyed yourself.
- When you notice yourself feeling anxious or depressed about your progress, ask “Have I set up impossible expectations in this situation?” If your answer is, “Yes,” then it’s time to dial things back a few notches.
- Confront the fears behind your perfectionism by asking “What am I afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen?” And then make a plan to deal with that worst case scenario.
- Try to see mistakes as learning opportunities. Forward progress in business requires constant improvements made incrementally over time. If you never try anything (or make a mistake), you’ll never learn anything new.
- Avoid all-or-none thinking in relation to your goals. Learn to prioritize all the different tasks on your plate. Which are less important to you? Which are less important to your bottom line? Those are the ones you can relax a bit on.
- Find a mastermind group to help you regularly check the reality of your thoughts. (If you need some help with that, I highly recommend this upcoming webinar.)
- Work with a coach or a mentor to get specific advice on the things you’re doing. Often, just having someone on your side that’s been down that road before can help save you loads of time, money and needless worry. And yes, this is a service I offer.
- Give yourself deadlines. And make sure you’ve got someone there to keep you accountable. When you know you’ve got to turn in that project in a week, your focus will change from making it perfect to making it the best version you can. At which point you’re then free to release said project into the wild and see if it flies. Again, if you don’t have someone to help you stay accountable, start here.
Ultimately, it’s meaningless to compare your life and your business success to someone else’s.
Is it helpful to get realistic pictures of what others are doing (and succeeding at)? Yes! Just be sure you’re doing that and not trying to copy their roadmap.
There will always be people who are farther along the path. And for that matter, there will always be other paths.
You don’t need 10,000 fans to have a business that supports you and your family. You probably only need five or six really loyal customers. Maybe ten. Find those ten people. Serve them to your best ability. Helping even just a few people (versus the hordes that your competitors seem to be working with) will get you closer to your goal. Every time.
And you might not feel like a bad ass unicorn — yet. Just take baby steps every single day and that voice in your head will learn to be quiet soon enough. Promise!
What are you working on now that feels overwhelming? Share with us in a comment below.
I think a big part of perfectionism is tied to our fear of failure. As long as I don’t ever actually finish that novel, I don’t have to put it out there in the big bad world, where it might be rejected. “Starting where you are” (not where you want to be or – worse – where you think you ought to be) is one of the most difficult mindset shifts to master.
Thanks Michelle. We miss you too. But you are doing what you need to do right now. So be imperfectly perfect my friend.
Stressing because I can’t think of a brilliant retort – guess what, PERFECTIONIST!
I agree with Nicole. I’m there too. One of my favorite and best clients is fond of the saying, “it’s all baby steps.” He’s grown his business from $3M to $10M in four years and he’s still taking it one step at a time. Great words of wisdom — as always!
Tea sounds like you could start a group “Perfectionists Anonymous” and fill it today. I’d be there. Reading your post was eerily familiar. I have to force myself to hit send / publish / whatever on something new because a voice in my head is saying, “yes but it could be even better…” Bookmarking for those relapse days.
You are fabulous, truly. All that you say resonates. Probably because all entrepreneurs are by default perfectionist. And so we definitely need to learn to follow our own path and purpose; lessen the remorseless pressure we put on ourselves daily like Sharon’s Sisyphus Implosion and realise that just a handful of customers who love you for what you do, is cause for celebration. Thanks for putting a big concept into a digestible nugget.
Oy…been there, done that, have the t-shirt. I feel like in my old age, I’ve gained better perspective on myself and my perfectionism which helps rein it in, but still a struggle always. Great tips to help (which is one thing I always enjoy about your posts….very actionable tips to take with you!)
Straight A’s!!! Yeah, that was the nemesis of my childhood. There were 6 kids in my family and you could tell as time went by, my parents got worn down on the whole thing. The first three of us just got A’s. Because you had to. I remember ONCE in my life I failed a test (8th grade math, ahem) and it was like holy cow, the end of the educational system. By the time the next 3 came around, my parents were just happy nobody dropped out of school. So yes, perfectionism was pretty much embedded in every brain cell.So I laughed and cringed reading this, especially the part about “the worst thing that can happen”. I play that game all the time! Sometimes you realize your fears are ridiculous and sometimes you realize crap, I have to do something in case this goes wrong… And you do not need to win the comparison game to be successful. So true! Alas, many days I look in the mirror and see gray hair, but I’m still envisioning that unicorn 🙂
Enjoyed this and it really made me want to be a little more of a perfectionist in a more positive way but with limits. I really miss the mastermind group as I think that is such a great way to share, receive awesome feedback and a great sounding board. Excellent post as usual!
Tea! You made me laugh. “I confess: when I look in the mirror, I’ve yet to see myself as a bad ass unicorn.” Love it. You know the adage – Done is better that perfect? And yet I say, is it? Is it really? If it’s not perfect it will probably flop, and then when I try to make it perfect and it flops anyway…whew what a freaking disappointment. So, that said, I agree. Enjoy the journey, have a good time, keep making stuff, and eventually you’ll find your own road map. At least that’s my plan. Because when I try to follow anyone (or everyone) elses – it feels beyond overwhelming! Thanks Tea, you always add butter to the batter. : )
As a recovering perfectionist, this post spoke my language, Tea. I’ve learned to work with a ‘what can I achieve today” mindset for some things. It doesn’t mean I don’t plan, because I do, but it actually means I get things done without waiting for everything to be perfect. It’s like applying the Agile Manifesto to my business.
Great article Tea with so many straight forward, clear ideas on how to deal with this and move forward with your business. It’s not rocket science and is all very straight forward yet so many struggle to take the simple steps on a consistent basis and get stuck ……. Thanks for the share 🙂
Great post… as someone who talks branding and consistent visibility 24/7 I am a bit of the perfectionist, but I’ve also learned how to delegate certain things to those who can do them better than I can. We all need reminders of also trying new things so we can expand not only our audience, but our comfort zone. As we put something out there we learn how things can be better if they aren’t working the first time, but it’s trying that counts.
Hello, my name is Lee and I am a recovering perfectionist. There are days that I want to slip back into my old self however I now have some more steps to keep me moving ahead. This one says it all for me…”help you regularly check the reality of your thoughts.” Thanks for this.