You’ve probably heard that “perfect is the enemy of good” and that “done beats perfect” but if you find yourself still obsessing over just the right sentence for that blog post or spend hours searching for the perfect image for your website then you’re likely caught up in the cycle of perfectionism.
And if, like me, you grew up as a professional in corporate life then you probably believe that perfect is always the benchmark you’ll be measured against and it’s what’s expected.
For us “good enough” has never been good enough.
But the truth is we hold ourselves back when we subscribe to that theory.
What exactly is perfectionism?
The best definition of Perfectionism – and the one that got me to recognize the power it had over me – comes from the fabulous Brene Brown in her interview with Oprah for Super Soul Sunday.
According to Dr. Brown, “perfectionism is the 20 ton shield.”
This is because we think “…it’s going to protect us from being hurt; but it protects us from being seen.”
And of course as introverted professionals this is the heart of the matter isn’t it?
We fear being seen as much as we fear not being seen.
And of course we fear rejection – being hurt, when someone doesn’t want what we offer.
It’s so easy to take that rejection personally. Especially when we feel our work is so much a part of our personality.
But that’s a conversation for another day.
There are Two Types of Perfectionism
We can be internally driven perfectionists or externally driven perfectionists. Neither is good.
Internally driven perfectionists drive themselves and sometimes other people crazy.
Externally driven perfectionists not only drive others crazy but they can also drive us away.
The internally driven perfectionist holds ourselves to an impossible to attain standard of performance. And allows our Inner Critic to maintain an ongoing chorus of negativity, telling us that what we’re doing is bad, that no one will be interested in whatever we’re creating, and they certainly don’t want to hear our opinions.
This is often driven by low self-esteem and poor self-acceptance.
Externally driven perfectionists hold everyone else to impossible to attain standards of performance and believe that their way is not just best but it’s the only acceptable way to do anything.
Think of the worst micro-managing jerk you’ve ever worked for and that person was probably an externally driven perfectionist among other things.
How Perfectionism Differs From the Pursuit of Excellence
Striving for excellence in your work comes from a healthy place of wanting to deliver an outstanding outcome for those you serve. You believe in your heart that you’re fully capable of delivering a great outcome for clients and that’s rooted in self-confidence and therefore self-acceptance.
Pursuit of excellence leads to innovation as well as to attention to detail and therefore high quality. It’s motivating for high achievers.
So How Does “Good Enough” Fit In?
You’ve heard gurus repeat the mantra that “good enough is good enough” but I’ll bet you’ve had a hard time accepting it.
As an employee, there was no such thing as “good enough.” Perfect – that’s that was good enough.
And if you came from a work environment or a profession where there really was no margin for error, then you’re going to have a hard time embracing a “good enough” mindset.
Think about it – did you want your paycheck right 85% of the time? Of course not. And even 95% of the time wasn’t acceptable. If you worked in Payroll, it was 100% 100% of the time or you were out .
That kind of conditioning – along with self doubt – contributes to perfectionism out on our own.
We tell ourselves we’re really driven by excellence but it’s not true.
Excellence causes us to stand out while perfectionism allows us to stay hidden.
It’s a difficult dance.
But to achieve our goals of making a big impact and making a great living, we’ve got to resolve this conflict, let go of perfectionism, and embrace the pursuit of excellence.
How Perfectionism Leads to Underachieving
Perfectionism leads to exactly what we don’t want – failure.
And it takes us there in a slow death.
Perfectionism leads to:
- overwork and horribly long hours
- low profitability since when we divide the amount we’re earning by the number of hours we’re working and end up with something below minimum wage
- staying hidden and a well-kept secret since we never put anything out there in a big way
And the result is a self-fulfilling prophecy of not achieving our goals and not making the impact we dream of making.
Perfectionism is rooted in poor self-confidence, lack of self-trust, and fear.
In the same Super Soul Sunday conversation, Oprah shares her big aha about perfectionism, that it’s “the ultimate fear. That people who are walking around as perfectionists…they are ultimately afraid that the world is going to see them for who they are and they won’t measure up.”
Maybe you can relate to my experience.
In corporate life, I didn’t have to worry about being seen. I worked in very visible jobs in HR and everyone knew me.
You were probably well known too – at least in your corner of the organization among the internal clients you served.
I was confident in my abilities and always landed special projects that leveraged my talents in a way that pushed me but never terrified me.
I felt safe and secure enough to voice my opinion and concerns in meetings and had a strong enough reputation that I didn’t see a mistake as failure. (And luckily neither did my bosses)
But out on our own there’s no safety net.
I struggled to accept and recognize my “corporate pedigree” as my friend JT Ippolito calls the experience and reputation we built in corporate life.
I got caught in that awful fear that I wouldn’t be able to deliver on the promise I was making to clients.
The Road to Success Starts with “Good Enough”
The solution to coming out from our shield of perfectionism involves several elements:
Stop looking outside of yourself for validation. Our self worth isn’t tied to getting a client, writing a great blog post, or anything else. Our friends and family will still love us whether our Facebook posts get engagement or not. And WE have to learn to love ourselves in spite of that too.
Accept Good Enough as the on-ramp to Excellent. When I heard “just put something good enough out there” I really heard “it’s ok to suck.”
But we know that your message and offerings evolve over time and as you start, you perfect your craft and become stronger in your skills.
You can be a fantastic writer, but if you never publish a blog post you’ll never know if any of your ideas make sense or resonate with anyone.
Embrace feedback and get it from a variety of people whose opinions you value. It’s ok to start with people who love you who are gentle in their comments. Then move to people who love you who will give you more constructive advice. The more confident you become you can reach out to people who are even more knowledgeable for their thoughts and opinions. This is why – no matter our profession – we’ve all got to work with a mentor or coach, so we can continue to challenge ourselves.
Detach from the Outcome. This is the single most important element to becoming a recovering perfectionist and striving for true excellence.
I first read about the concept in Napoleon Hill’s classic book, Think and Grow Rich.
It only took reading this 15 times before the concept finally hit me.
In general, it means f you get upset, angry, or otherwise emotional over anything in business it’s because you’re attached to the outcome. You believe your personal identity or self-worth is tied up in the results somehow.
This is why it’s critical to develop a healthy self-acceptance and ultimately self-love.
Without it, our Inner Critic will convince us that really do suck and we’ll hide our light. The thousands of people we were meant to touch and help will continue to suffer in their own way because we weren’t brave enough to take risks to help them.
Stop believing what your Inner Critic. That’s likely the voice of an abusive parent or boss, or a hypercritical teacher, or some other authority from the past who ruled over you.
Oh it sounds like your voice. But that’s just because it’s your brain reading the Critic’s script.
Stop playing those old movies and stop looking at those old pictures.
Trust yourself with all the faith you had In yourself when you excelled for your employers. Demonstrate your confidence by not taking work you can’t excel at and don’t work for clients you don’t want to have a beer with.
And accept yourself for the fabulously smart, accomplished professional you are and that your clients are lucky to have serving them.
If you wrestle with self-doubt and perfectionism and you’re ready to break free and achieve your most important goals by taking consistent Courageous Action, then come to my workshop and discover how to manage your schedule and move forward with courage and clarity to achieve your goals.