For much of my life, I wore perfectionism as a badge of honor. If asked about my biggest weakness in an interview, I would respond that “I’m a perfectionist in everything I do.” During that phase of my life, I was convinced that perfectionism was my greatest strength. Nearly two decades later, I realize that perfectionism was really my biggest weaknesses.
This article has been on my content calendar for years. Each time it comes up, I push it out a few more months. If I’m being honest, I haven’t truly overcome perfectionism. I’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s something that I remain conscious of daily. I imagine it will always be a part of my life.
Part nature, part nurture, I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. From learning to tie my shoes, to writing my name, and coloring pictures, nothing short of perfection was ever good enough.
Young Holly the Perfectionist
It’s not all bad. This strong internal drive served me well throughout my school years and most of my corporate career. But there were also some devastating side effects.
I began to realize how damaging my perfectionism was when I decided to leave the corporate world and begin building my own businesses. I had known that I wanted to give this a shot since 2012. But the fear of failure, rejection, criticism, and not being good enough kept me from starting for three and a half years.
Once I found the courage to start, I discovered that it took days for me to complete a simple project. I would review it over and over again until I was sure there wasn’t a single error. I would usually review it one more time before it went live, and again after. If I happened to find something that wasn’t quite right, I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and prayed that no one else noticed.
After realizing that perfectionism was controlling my life, I recognized that there was no way I’d be able to build a business and meet my goals if I didn’t allow myself a little more grace. Slowly but surely, I got better at letting go of the need to be perfect and was completing my work in a more timely manner.
Then it came time to release my first ebook. I had been working on it for close to two years, but it was never quite perfect. I realized that if I didn’t get it out now, I would be sitting in the same place five years from now, with the same product that wasn’t quite perfect.
So I set a date, announced it publicly, and made the best darn product I could by that date. It wasn’t perfect and I felt a little bit of guilt and shame for releasing something that wasn’t flawless. But I told myself that in the long run, it’s better this way. Still, that first week was very difficult and emotional for me.Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it. — Salvador Dalí Click To Tweet
Since that experience, I continue to get better at letting go of the need to be perfect. I’ve set limits on the number of times I can review a piece of work. I set timers to ensure I complete projects in a timely manner. More importantly, I’ve learned that making an error isn’t a reflection of my value as a person.
Here are six lessons I learned on my journey to overcome perfectionism.
6 – I used perfectionism to cover up deeper issues.
Five years ago I couldn’t attempt most of the things I wanted to do because I was petrified of failing. I had a hard time connecting with people outside of work relationships because I was terrified of criticism and rejection. Perfectionism gave me a false sense of control. Looking back, I see that I was using perfectionism to mask my insecurity.
5 – Progress always trumps perfection.
When I released my imperfect ebook, I discovered that there’s so much more to be learned by leaping than by waiting for everything to be perfect. When measuring your success, shift your focus from perfection to how far you’ve come. It’s the quickest path to achieving your goals.
4 – Everything I do is fixable.
Newsflash! I’m not a heart surgeon. Everything I create is fixable. And in most cases, it can be fixed instantly, often from my phone. If you’re in a similar situation, give yourself permission to let your work be fixable too.
3 – There’s no such thing as perfection.
After spending four decades trying to be perfect, I realized something. Perfection doesn’t exist. Everything can be improved indefinitely. So I asked myself, why am I chasing something I’ll never achieve? Maybe I should just strive to be better each day.
I saw this more clearly when I found errors in a book by one of my favorite authors. Can you imagine how many well paid professionals combed through that book to make it perfect? Yet it wasn’t. Experiencing this helped me understand that perfection isn’t the goal.
2 – If you wait until conditions are perfect, you’ll miss out on living your best life.
Similar to #3, there will never be the perfect day, the best weather, or enough money to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Start where you are with what you have and you’ll give thanks for this moment of courage down the road.One who pays heed to the wind will never sow, and one who watches the clouds will never reap. — Ecclesiastes 11:4 Click To Tweet
1 – I am loved for who I am, not for perfect grammar.
The people who truly love me, support me and are by my side, don’t care if I gain weight over the winter or mix up you’re and your. In fact, they don’t seem to notice much. They see and love me for who I am, not some false image of perfection. I bet the same is true of the people who love you.
By no means am I implying that you can just turn off your perfectionist leanings like a light switch. Like most things I write and coach about, it takes practice. But making progress is very simple. You just have to start.
Is there something you’ve always dreamed of doing that you’ve been afraid to start because it won’t be perfect?
List one small thing you can do today, in just 10 to 30 minutes that will get you closer to that dream. Before the day is over, schedule time to actually do it. Then write down the small step you’ll take tomorrow, then the next day, and the next. I guarantee that there’s something you can do in ten minutes that will help you build the confidence you need to let go of the need to be perfect so that you can begin living a more fulfilling and joy-filled life.