The Price of Perfectionism

Five darts hitting bullseye on dartboard

Being perfect isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a woman who was considering launching a blog of her own, but something was holding her back from doing it.

Here’s what she said:

“There no way that I can put out something that’s less than excellent. I demand excellence in everything that I do. I’m a perfectionist.”

Yep, that was her reason for not launching her own blog, and she said those words as if being a perfectionist was something to be proud of.

It’s not.

Perfectionism is a silent killer of dreams, and if we care about achieving anything meaningful in our lives before we die, we must kick this silly habit to the curb with the quickness.

The Truth About Perfectionism

The proud perfectionists of the world may disagree with what I’m about to say, but being a perfectionist has very little to do with “demanding excellence.”

It has everything to do with fear.

Fear of being judged by others. Fear of showing the world anything less than the best. Fear of failure.

Fear is a sneaky snake and it will find clever ways to keep us stuck, if we’re not on high-alert. Hiding behind a shield of perfectionism is a convenient excuse to stop you from taking action, but here’s the unavoidable truth:

You’re really just scared of not being good enough.

I get it, because I used to be there myself.

As I mentioned last week, it took me three long years to publish my first blog post here because I wanted to “make sure that it was perfect” (translated: I was terrified that it wouldn’t be good enough.)

And guess what? It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.

Many times we use perfectionism as an excuse to stop us from trying things that will allow us to grow. It could be simple things like grabbing the microphone at the karaoke bar or giving a presentation at work. It could also be bigger things like starting a business or starting a family. Here’s another unavoidable truth:

If waited until we were ready before we tried something, we would never do anything.

I didn’t feel ready to accept a leadership position at my job, I didn’t feel ready to have kids, and I definitely didn’t feel ready to launch this blog in 2013.

All three of those things have brought me more joy than anything in my life, to date. What if I waited until I was ready to do those things, or worse, what if I waited until I could do them perfectly before I started?

I think of that often, and it still scares the hell out of me.

But just in case there are any people out there who still think that there’s some merit to this perfectionism stuff, read on.

Nothing is Perfect on the First Try

Do you remember what it was like to learn how to ride a bike for the first time?

I know that I didn’t hop on my bike as a 5-year old and start rocking the pedals like a Tour de France champion. If your first time was anything like my first few times, it was full of falls, bruises and scraped knees. It’s a miracle that kids stick with the learning process because riding a bike can be pretty painful before the skill is perfected.

But isn’t that the way it is with anything worthwhile?

No one is perfect in the beginning of anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s riding a bike, public speaking, having sex (well, it’s true), learning how to cook, starting a blog or running a business. The only way to get better is to jump in, try it and make adjustments along the way. Let me prove it.

Fail_1The logo on the right was the concept that I was ready to use as the logo for The Positivity Solution (yes, seriously!) Obviously, this logo was far from perfect. But once I made the decision that I was finally to going to launch this blog no matter what, I wasn’t going to let a less-than-perfect logo stop me.

The only reason why you haven’t seen this logo before now is that a month before The Positivity Solution’s launch, I showed this logo to a few trusted friends who firmly (and unanimously) told me to scrap it and start over. This logo is just one of my countless mistakes that I made in the early days of The Positivity Solution.

Far worse in my opinion, I used to write blog posts in an attempt to stand out by being the “edgy positivity guy” (whatever the hell that meant in my mind), and predictably those blog posts were cringe-worthy. I still shudder thinking of them today (thank you, “Edit” function on WordPress.)

But you know what? I learned from it, and today I’m writing blog posts that are 100% authentically me.

If you have the guts to try something new, you will (not “may,” you will) screw up, and that’s okay. Just remember this truth:

Once your fear of looking “less-than-perfect” is eclipsed by your fear of what your life will become by not trying, your life will change forever.

The Price of Perfectionism

Do you know the most ironic thing about being a perfectionist?

All that perfectionism will do for you is keep you broke, miserable, unfulfilled and as far away from “perfect” as you could ever imagine.

Your dreams don’t need your perfection, they need your action.

There’s a reason why cowards and courageous people experience the world differently–it’s because they think differently.

Cowards focus on making it perfect now and getting it done later, whereas courageous people focus on getting it done now and perfecting it later. Perfect is the archenemy of progress, and the truly courageous people of the world know this.

In order for your dreams to become real in your life, you will need courage to overcome the inevitable judgment from others and the temporary failure that is waiting for all of us when we try something new.

On the other hand, choosing perfectionism means having your dreams continue to sit on the shelf for precious weeks, months and years in pursuit of a goal (aka, perfection) that no one is capable of achieving.

That’s why there is a steep price for perfectionism. Your happiness, your dreams and your life are the fee.

I have good news, though.

The world doesn’t require your perfection, it never did. It needs your willingness to take action, it needs your courage, and most of all, it needs your authenticity.

Imperfections and all.

Your Turn

Do you suffer from perfectionism? Have you ever used perfectionism as an excuse to do what’s necessary? If so, jump into the comment section below and make your voice heard!

Shola

Shola

Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.
Shola
Shola

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Comments

  1. Hiteshkumar says:

    My opinion is we should try to work near perfectly, we are not supposed to be obsessive for anything;
    We can make habit of doing work good enough so that it will not harm us or others..,perfection is good for some action but we shouldn’t stick to it, gradually we can improve…

    • I hear you, Hiteshkumar–I’m all for gradual improvement, and like you said, being obsessive can be harmful. Striving to be the best we can be makes sense, but needing to be perfect is a recipe for disaster, in my opinion.

  2. Bravo!!! Right on the money, Shola!

    I read somewhere that procrastination is actually unchecked perfectionism. Of course, people procrastinate for other reasons (I am a HUGE procrastinator but not a perfectionist in the least), but this is a big one. The idea being, if they wait until the last minute and it doesn’t turn out well, they can blame the lack of time and not feel bad for the crappy job!

    Let’s all take a word of advice from Tony Horton. He’s the guy behind P90X. I have been working that program for almost 4 months now, and the thing he says that sticks with me the most is, “Do your best and forget the rest.”

    So let’s quit trying to reach the impossible (perfection) and go for the possible (our best)!!!

    Have a spectacular week, Shola!!!

    • So spot on, Kathy!! I love that quote! I will have to steal it and put it on a Post It so I can remember! thank you! 🙂

    • That’s awesome, Kathy! I definitely appreciate the Doc Horton reference (I’m very familiar with the P90X program), and his mantra of doing your best and forgetting the rest is advice that I’ve been following for many years. Strangely enough, after reading your comment, I realized that I’ve never addressed procrastination on this blog before! I’m feeling another blog post coming… 😉

  3. I love this post, Shola! I love to sing but I was very scared to even open my mouth, so I decided to be brave and signed up for singing lessons, it was amazing! I know I will never sing like Sarah Brightman but I feel so happy now, proud that I tried and that I can grab a mic and sing to my friends, they say I’m pretty good, which makes me even happier 🙂 Fear will get us to nowhere, we only have the present, today and now, this very moment so if we wait then life will pass us by. I remember this quote from John Lennon “Life is what happens while you are making other plans”. Thanks for such a great post, Shola!! excellent week to you 😀

    • Fist bumps and hugs to you, Sofia! That is what courage is all about–jumping in and not waiting to be perfect before you begin. I’m nowhere close to Tony Robbins or Dr. Wayne Dyer, but I can’t let that stop me from sharing whatever gifts that I have with the world. And there is no doubt that your beautiful voice is giving your friends and family tons of joy when you sing. And who knows, maybe the world will get an opportunity to enjoy your voice too, if that’s the path that you choose to take. Either way, you said it best–fear will get us nowhere and if we allow it to control us, life will pass us by. And speaking of Dr. Wayne Dyer, he said brilliantly, “don’t die with your song still inside you.” Clearly that sad fate will not happen to you 🙂

  4. This one hits close to home for me. Hiding behind fear, waiting to be ready, and never having the courage to do anything is the story of my life.

    ***Boring childhood origin story alert***
    I have a twin. When we were about six my twin got on a tiny little bicycle and pedaled that darn thing without training wheels her first time on it. I couldn’t do it after 20, maybe 100 times. My twin was a gifted artist. I draw adequate stick figures. My twin was better at school. My parents were always praising and nurturing my twin’s talents, and I kind of felt like the leftover twin. I was hyperactive, a tomboy, not cute or sweet like my twin. So I always waited for the praise that was never coming. Eventually I stopped trying and became the “so what” cool cat coasting along on ambivalence and lack of caring.
    ***Yes, this is the end!***

    I think we both know the truth here, Shola, that I care immensely, but that I am too afraid to put myself out there because I feel like I will never be good enough. A person grows accustomed to living a life without dreams, not real dreams anyway, maybe just pipe dreams, like “I wish I could write a novel” or “I wish I could climb Kilimanjaro.” A person like me starts and quits blogs, chickens out on applying for promotions, settles in relationships with people who reinforce our opinions of ourselves that we aren’t good enough.

    I have no idea how to become that person who will “just do it.” Nothing seems to help all that much. I’ve long ago stopped fooling myself that perfectionism has anything to do with this, and accept that it’s fear, for all the good that does. At least your post has me thinking it over though.

    • Lora, that definitely wasn’t a “boring origin story!” I really dug the vulnerability and realness that it took to write that and share it with us. Can I tell you something, though? You are definitely good enough. Just based on your comment alone is all the proof that I need to know that you are a talented and clever writer. You absolutely have the ability to write a blog and/or a book if you want to. In fact, if you’re up for it, I’m officially extending you an offer to write a guest blog post on The Positivity Solution. I know talent when I see it. Send me an email Lora, and we can talk details. Hope to hear from you!

  5. Great post and i’m in the spirit of it, trying to write this reply with my eight month old on my lap and my two other kids screaming at each other in the background (it’s all good!!).

    My kids have taught me something and it’s amazing, they play games with whatever and at whatever time they choose. I guess I’m saying theres never a perfect time to play. See Ya!!!!

    • Oyenu, I feel you! I wrote part of this blog post with my three-year old on my lap and six-year old banging her hula hoop in the background–life as a parent, right? 😉 But the cool thing is that we both did what we had to do anyway, even if it wasn’t perfect!

  6. Oh Shola, The Hip Hop Preacher is the Edgy Positivity Guy. You are the Highly Effective Positivity Guy! =) To be honest, I have put myself on a policy of “Eternal Vigilance” against the curse of perfectionism. I do think we should strive for excellence and accuracy, and take pride in doing our best, and then be done. Probably the fear is from my awful childhood, and really, I think it’s also the downside of one of my strengths, which is tenacity. Having battled this nasty habit, I have a suggestion. What has worked for me, is to find professions where perfectionism, or at least very high levels of accuracy, are desirable. I worked in the financial industry for two decades, and you really have to be accurate when you’re making transactions with other people’s money. Now I work in a hospital, where accuracy regarding exams, records, coding, etc. is essential, or patients will not receive proper care, and insurance will refuse to cover. These jobs do not demand perfection, though accuracy is essential. There is a difference, and it is possible to adjust one’s thinking around that. If you don’t care enough to counteract perfectionism for yourself, do it for everyone around you. Perfectionists make terrible bosses, terrible parents, terrible partners and friends. Thanks again Shola, for bringing something very important!

    • I wanted to add a further comment, as it’s been on my mind. We have discussed self-acceptance before on this blog, and I believe Perfectionism to be a red flag that, when I engage in that behavior, I am not able to practice self-acceptance at the same time. Self-acceptance is unconditional. I should accept myself all of the time, warts and all. I may not accept a behavior or habit of mine, and seek to change it, yet inherently I strive to accept my self completely. If I slip into micromanaging my every move, yearning for perfection, then I have set a condition on myself: that I will only accept “me” when I meet an inhuman and unreachable standard. In other words, I will never be able to be satisfied with who I am. People who are this cruel to themselves are obviously then also unable to objectively judge the way they treat others, and will usually be quite unkind and harsh. Sorry to go on and on, but this one was close to the bone.

      • Yes Donna! Self-acceptance must be unconditional, or else it really isn’t self-acceptance, is it? I might have to dive into that topic in more depth on this blog because it is such an important aspect of living a positive life. And I agree–some of the meanest people who I have ever known or worked for, were people who were also very cruel and mean to themselves. You can’t give away what you don’t have, and if you don’t have any kindness for yourself, how could you sincerely give it to others? Well said, as always!

    • Thank you for distinguishing between perfection and accuracy. I needed that!

    • You’re right Donna, E.T. has earned the “Edgy Positivity Guy” title for sure! But I’m thinking that I’m digging the Highly Effective Positivity Guy title a little better ;). As always, you always add something brilliant to the conversation. For the perfectionists in the house, it does make a lot of sense to find jobs where high levels of accuracy are desired. I work in healthcare too, so I’ve seen firsthand how this can be beneficial to our patients. My fear are the people who hide behind perfectionism as an excuse to take any action–that’s the dark side of perfectionism. And speaking of dark sides, I couldn’t agree more that perfectionists make terrible bosses, parents and spouses!

  7. At least, I have noticed, some percentage of people start to outgrow this as we get older…if we are lucky, some perspective kicks in and we realize that people aren’t watching, judging, snickering, caring about what we do as much as we tell ourselves they are. At some point it becomes ludicrous that we are holding ourselves to standards that we wouldn’t hold others to, because it would be cruel!

    • Amen Heather! It literally took me close to 40 years for that lesson to sink in. People don’t give a damn about we’re doing as much as we would like to believe. Freeing ourselves from the judgment of others and giving ourselves the permission to fully live our lives, is what true freedom is all about.

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