Remember that cliche where people mention perfectionism as their weakness in a job interview? It’s actually a sign of how pervasive it is in our culture, and how common it is in our human experience. It seems like the “safe” answer because perfectionists are strongly driven to create excellent work, so it would seem like a good weakness to have. But in reality, this shouldn’t impress anyone, because it’s one thing to have an intent, and another thing to actually act on it.
The real reason perfectionism is considered a weakness is because it cripples us from making decisions. When it becomes too strong, perfectionism becomes the thing that produces the opposite of what you want—no action at all, which means you’ve failed anyway. People think if they haven’t tried, then they didn’t fail. In reality, perfectionism causes failures in the form of self-sabotaging behaviors.
This topic is a big deal for business owners who experience a lot of pressure to succeed. We are almost expected to be on our A game all of the time. And yet, since we’re human, it’s unreasonable to think we will never make mistakes. “Done is better than perfect,” I always say, but it’s been much harder to apply it in practice.
Back then, I had Monja Meyer as a guest on this podcast episode to speak about this topic. Monja Meyer is a confidence coach and podcast host (Women Making Money / The Brave Boss Podcast) on a mission to help women overcome their self-limiting beliefs so they can become highly magnetic in their lives and businesses.
Monja knows the strong impact perfectionism can have on our confidence, and so she strives to help us overcome this major obstacle. So it is with great thanks to Monja that we can now dive deep into this important topic.
The first step to overcoming perfectionism: find out how it shows up in our lives.
Perfectionism shows up in various disguises. Some things we usually equate to perfectionism are things like being neat, organized, or a stellar student. But these don’t really give us the full picture. You can be disorganized or perform poorly in school/work and still be a perfectionist. In fact, it’s more likely that you are disorganized or you perform poorly because you’re a perfectionist.
Hard to believe? That’s because what actually makes perfectionism problematic is the fear of failure or fear of shame. People don’t immediately make this connection, but once they reflect about it, they can see its pervasiveness in their lives. These feelings are deep-rooted in many of us, and they are the reason it’s difficult to stop perfectionist behaviors.
Monja emphasized that perfectionism doesn’t define who you are. It is simply a set of thoughts and behaviors that can be changed once you address the reasons behind what you do.
Perfectionist behaviors can be big or small. Procrastination and the cycle of anxiety that follows it is definitely a big one, which is why it gets its own section later in the blog.
Here’s an example of a small one. There are times I’d write my signature over and over if a letter didn’t look right. It sounds harmless, but it can be a waste of time and energy when in reality, no one would even notice!
Besides, the small things do add up eventually. Whenever you preoccupy yourself with unimportant things, you miss the opportunity to make progress on your bigger goals. And when you’re preoccupied, you may even miss the opportunity to clean your house, for that matter… (That’s just to show you how messiness and perfectionism can coexist!)
Perfectionism blocks you from moving forward.
When I was 15, I wanted to get a tattoo that said “all or nothing.” I didn’t end up getting it, though at the time, I didn’t realize how prophetic that would’ve been.
Most people don’t know me as a perfectionist. For a long time, I didn’t think I was one either. But there were times I’ve had difficulty making progress and it turned out something deeper was going on. “All or nothing” is a phrase a perfectionist would think when they stop themselves from moving forward. Either they create something perfectly or none at all.
Perfectionists only want to move forward after they get one small thing done perfectly. Or they’d only feel motivated if an experience or event completely matches up with a daydream, image, or idea that they have in their head.
This is the real issue with perfectionism. Perfectionists easily fall into “analysis paralysis.” They are so fearful of making mistakes. Yet because it’s impossible to avoid mistakes, they almost always end up doing nothing at all.
Perfectionists are risk-averse. This won’t do when you’re a business owner. We inherently face a lot of risks on a daily basis. And it certainly won’t do when you’re a leader who people look up to for decision-making.
Seeking Clarity as a Perfectionist
Here’s another big one. Perfectionists want to seek clarity before making ANY decision, and that is why they are almost always stuck. If you’ve ever felt the lightness and ease after having an “aha moment,” then you’d understand why perfectionists are often chasing this feeling. They do not like the discomfort of making the wrong decision, so they try to seek this feeling of clarity by overanalyzing information.
But clarity has never been about the feeling of it, which is often short-lived. The feeling usually stops once you get back into the daily grind. Clarity is not something that you have to seek outside of you. And it is certainly not just “one grand moment” that makes everything else after it feel like a piece of cake…
Clarity isn’t something that you wait for. Rather, clarity is a continuous process that you create for yourself by taking action and then adjusting accordingly (clarity in hindsight, as they say). It is going all in with a decision and then being willing to overcome the challenges that come with making that commitment. And if you make a mistake, you’ll know intuitively what to do next. You’ll feel what resonates more for you.
Clarity does not totally remove all the bumps in your path. When we chose to narrow down the types of services we offer here at Linq, we lost some clients in the process. But we felt firm and secure in our decision as we knew we took the steps towards our vision. In the end, making this decision allowed us to deliver more value and serve new and existing clients more effectively.
Overcoming procrastination, the sister of perfectionism.
By this point, the overlap between perfectionism and procrastination is probably quite obvious. Procrastination is delaying action, which echoes the fact that perfectionism stops you from moving forward. It starts off small. But once you give into it, it becomes a vicious cycle full of anxiety and guilt. This whole process then ends up becoming VERY draining.
Mel Robbins once said that procrastination is not mere laziness, but rather, it is a coping mechanism for stress. When we procrastinate, we are unconsciously avoiding stress caused by our fears of failure or discomfort. It works for a while to blow off some steam. But the drawback to this is that there is really no escape, and so we only end up feeling even more stressed after we procrastinate.
You must become aware of this process before it snowballs into something big. All big changes start with self-awareness. Often, we are not conscious of the reasons behind our chronic urge to procrastinate. But the more we ask ourselves “WHY,” the more we can talk ourselves out of it.
Every difficult feeling that we are trying to avoid has a thought behind it. Picking apart those thoughts, becoming more gentle with ourselves, and realizing that our failures do not need to define us can all start to help us break the old patterns apart. The more specific you can be with this process, the better.
Monja also encourages us to build up self-trust by committing to one small action and building a habit around it. Getting started on anything, no matter how small, will build up your momentum. This way, you’ll naturally feel motivated and you’ll no longer need to wait for inspiration to come around!
Overcoming perfectionism will grow the leader who will grow the business.
Remember that perfectionism is a collection of thoughts and behaviors that can be changed through self-awareness and forgiveness. Try to change your inner dialogue into one that is supportive instead of discouraging. Remind yourself that even when you encounter doubts, failures, and challenges, you’re probably still on the right track.
We’re often reinventing ourselves through our businesses… It’s both frightening and pretty rad.
If you don’t feel ready to fully overcome perfectionism, consider this: Perhaps the most comforting thing about this topic is the fact that it is a common experience, and it does not reflect any character flaw on your part. Still, it’s worth the pain and discomfort to grow and transform into the best version of yourself. And you don’t need to be perfect to do that.
To lifelong learning and lots more fun on this journey,