I pose a creative question to the group, set the timer, and go. What happens next is both revealing and heartbreaking. Some participants dive in and start writing. Others ask clarifying questions before they’re confident to get started. Others freeze, overcome by emotion and in thrall of their inner dialogue.
What happens when you sit down to create something, whether an online course, book, blog post, social media post, or marketing plan? Do you get mired in perfectionism? Do you, bemused with yourself, sit on something as you worry and fret about whether or not it’s not good enough?
In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, she cautions, “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
Perfectionism looks appealing on the surface. Its façade is a quest for excellence, which makes us feel conscientious and self-satisfied. But the truth is far more ugly.
Perfectionism is violence against yourself
Perfectionism is unattainable. It’s not a quest for excellence; it’s cultural programming and learned behavior – to be forever dissatisfied with yourself, forever seeking more.
Your perceived “flaws” keep you spending in order to fit in. But the nature of perfectionism means you’ll never fit in.
You forever feel you need to earn your place at the table, earn respect, earn rights and safety. You cannot expect to simply show up and be accepted. You need to prove always yourself.
- Your work will never be good enough.
- You’ll never be too rich or too thin.
- Your to-do list will never be done.
- There will always be another competitor with a better website and branding, more glowing testimonials, a larger email list, and more money to spend on making themselves look better than you.
“Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving,” says Neil Gaiman in 8 Rules of Writing.
Perfect is always beyond the next sprint, always within sight but out of grasp.
If you are not what the legendary Audre Lorde called “the mythical norm” (a white, straight able-bodied man), you will likely be tired. Bone tired.
Tired of justifying your existence. Tired of striving towards being accepted. Tired of eking out an existence and being told that if you haven’t yet found ease and comfort, it’s because you “aren’t trying hard enough” or perhaps you “don’t really want it.”
Says Brene Brown, “Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval.” Approval from who?
Those in power who fit the mythical norm don’t struggle with perfectionism because they have nothing to prove. They haven’t earned their place at the table; they were born into it. When they’re challenged for making destructive mistakes that impact on others, they’ll cry foul and act the victim. They’re unused to ceding power or thinking of others, so they’ll only scream louder. They won’t imagine how this might further add insult to injury.
As a sane person, you’ll want to opt out. Don’t. Opting out means the status quo goes unchallenged. It means that others who also don’t fit “the mythical norm” won’t see themselves reflected in those in the public arena.
Opting out means less diversity and more concentrated power. Opting out of speaking up and speaking out means the good guys aren’t available and the bastards win.
Your work is public
The difference between someone blogging for business and someone writing for pleasure is that a business owner is creating out loud. They aren’t just creating for the joy of creating – they are creating for someone, for the distinct and profitable pleasure of being useful, valuable and relevant to someone.
And when we launch something new into the world, it will never be as good as it can be because it hasn’t yet had feedback from a paying audience. While you may have done market research, interviewed some ideal clients, or gotten feedback on your offer or sales page, you still need to launch. You need to stop protecting your creation from the harsh light of the public and step back so that it can be seen, used, and given a good thrashing and become better and stronger for it.
There are no new ideas under the sun so stop keeping all your ideas to yourself. Nobody can execute quite like you can. Your beauty is in acting, not thinking.
Your work can only be realised through the paying public, or your online community, participating in your marketing goods. It has no value when waiting.
The beauty of other lenses
The beauty of others engaging in your creations is found in the lens that they bring to your work.
Others see what we don’t see. They see beauty where we see typos. They see insights where we tread well-worn stories. They see originality where we see the familiar grooves of our repetitions. They take your work and do something with it, creating outcomes beyond your wildest dreams.
You cannot be useful to people if you don’t launch.
You cannot be helpful to people if you keep hiding.
You cannot be relevant to people if you keep doing redrafts without hitting ‘publish’.
Your work is co-created with your clients and community, who can see what you can’t, and think so much more of you than you dare to think of yourself.
How do you become a recovering perfectionist in business? I don’t have any neat answers but I’ve heard a few whispers.
Try these on for size (and report back):
- Know when to stop editing. You need feedback from real, paying clients to do the next meaningful edit.
- Question your assumptions and beliefs –all cultures and subcultures have biases and flaws.
- Stop giving your precious time and attention to people who appear perfect and are selling themselves as the product.
- Diversity is strength in business and attracts more diversity. We are stronger when we are diverse. We need you.