Years ago, I suffered from perfectionism. I don’t think I realised it at the time, but it was definitely part of me. It’s a pretty common thing, wanting things to be ‘just so’. Wanting everything to be done ‘right’.
The big problem with it, for me (and for tons of other people) is that it actually means you end up freezing up, and not doing anything, because you can’t quite get around to doing it ‘right’. The burden of making things perfect is so huge that you can’t actually take it on.
Today I was going through a box of old stuff, and was able to realise in full context just how paralyzing perfectionism can be (and just how different I am these days). I found my son’s baby book, which I bought when I was pregnant with him, and inside it has spaces to record milestones and memories and photos.
What really struck me (and made me quite sad) was how empty it was.
I remembered how keen I was to fill it all in, so I would remember all these things, and he would have something to look at when he was older. But how I wanted to make it really perfect. And although some bits of information were there, like the date he first rolled over and sat up unaided, I had never got around to sticking in the footprints I had taken, or any photographs, and there were big empty spaces all over it. Why? Because I was afraid of not doing it perfectly.
Of course, my son IS now older. He’ll be 11 in 3 weeks time, in fact.
And I look at that book and think how silly it was that I couldn’t just seize that moment and write in it, or paste in those pictures. How nice it would be now, to be able to just look at the book and remember those captured moments, instead of remembering how much I got hung up by perfectionism.
Looking back, I know it wasn’t just the book that I was perfectionist about. I did it with so many things.
The antidote to perfectionism is action. Imperfect action. Just doing it, just getting on with it, and allowing yourself not to be perfect, allowing yourself to make mistakes. Allowing yourself to be good-enough. Ultimately it’s the only way you get anywhere.
It’s ironic, really, that when we suffer from perfectionism, we actually live in a far more imperfect world than we would if we could just aim for ‘good enough’. If you can aim for ‘good enough’ with your household chores, then you can make your home really quite lovely to live in. If you’re a perfectionist, then you’re more than likely paralyzed by your perfectionism and completely unable to do any chores for fear of not making things perfect. The result of that is living in a mess (I’ve been there, for sure).
And if you let perfectionism rule your business, you’re paralyzed just the same, wanting every piece of marketing, every article, every product, every piece of content, to be perfect, and the weight of that responsibility is ultimately too much to bear. The result: you do nothing, and your business gets nowhere.
Imperfect Action is one of the most important concepts I ever learned. Taking imperfect action doesn’t mean you don’t strive always to do well, or do better. But ACTION is important to get you anywhere at all, and it’s ok for that action to be imperfect. It’ll still get you further than no action at all.
In 10 years time you don’t want to look back, like I did, and see the action you didn’t take. You’ll want to look back at those snapshots in time, in all their imperfection, and see what you DID do.
What actions can you take now to move you forwards to where you want to be? What tasks have you been meaning to get around to but can’t because you’ve created a level of perfection you can’t quite rise to? If you could take imperfect action, where could that get you?
Kickstart your business this year, and make moves away from perfectionism paralysis: join me for my special e-course for small businesses for just £35 ($52), beginning February 11th 2014. Find out more here…
©Liz Wootton, 2013. All Rights Reserved