Perfectionism is one of the top dream and goal killers for high achievers. It’s also possible to achieve great success in your life, business, or career, and still have some goals that are waiting for things to be perfect.
If you’ve been my blog reader or newsletter subscriber for a while, you’ll notice that a lot of my insights come from reflections or conversations with other people.
Here’s another insight from a conversation with one of the most unlikely people!
This person is our regular garbage collector and one conversation with him made me pause and reflect.
I can’t remember how the conversation started as I paid him one day. What caught my attention was when he revealed that he had educated his children through this job.
One child had completed university and his last born was in university at that time. He’s paid their college fees because they didn’t get scholarships.
He also told me that he was ready to retire from this business. He had done it for more than 10 years and he was going to retire once his last-born completed university.
I didn’t ask how many children he had. But from the conversation, I surmised that he had at least 4 children.
Also, having interacted with him a number of times, I could take a guess that he had a high school education. I may not know whether he graduated from high school or not. But the way he expresses himself certainly points to having gone to high school.
But let’s not lose sight of the reason behind this article…
Now this man is definitely not the regular dirty and tired-looking garbage collector. He takes his work seriously. He also takes getting paid seriously and does not allow his customers to delay on their payments.
In our conversation, he also revealed that he has accomplished the following dreams through this business:
- Building a home in his village.
- Educating his children as far as they want to go.
- Preparing to retire and move back to his village.
That conversation got me thinking. 10 years collecting garbage with a mkokoteni (wooden cart in Swahili) and this man had educated his children and built a retirement home back in his village.
Just think about that…
The worst case scenario is that if he has to stop working, he has a home that is rent-free, and some land where he can at least grow food for his subsistence.
That is certainly more than most people who live in cities have!
Going deeper, he has invested in his children’s education. So the next generation will probably do better than him. But unlike many people, he allowed his children to choose how far they wanted to go. And then he made that happen.
Some children opted to stop after completing secondary education. Others chose to go further. Their father did not question or say that he could not educate them. He did what he had to do to make their education a reality.
In my career as a coach, which spans over 12 years now, I have heard all sorts of excuses for people not taking action on their goals.
While fear features high on the list, one of the unspoken reasons is that they are waiting for the right time to go for their dreams. This is more so when people are talking about starting a business or monetizing a skill or talent they have.
Another challenge that I have seen, and this is more likely for those who are employed than those who are in business, is the fear of stepping out of your comfort zone. There is this thing you want to be, do or have. But at the same time, you have placed a ceiling on how far you can go and you are not able to go beyond this ceiling.
This was the case last week when I spoke to 2 women whom I’ve known for years. One has had a business that she wants to start but has given all manner of excuses (aka reasons) why she couldn’t. The other one started a business, veered off track, and has tried different things that are unrelated to the business she started.
The younger me would have listened and tried to help these women or maybe even challenged them to think differently. That version of me would also have invited them to come for business startup coaching if they were ready to take their ideas further.
This older and hopefully wiser version of me simply listens and lets go of the conversation.
Because I have learned over the years that there is no miracle cure for perfectionism, especially when someone does not need to do what they are procrastinating on.
The change has to come from inside first and that pushes or motivates someone to act on their goals and dreams.
Is perfectionism holding you back from success?
The conversation and reflection point to 2 different sets of people. The first set, like the gentleman I talked to, have chosen to do what it takes to earn a living that takes care of their daily needs and also use that income to build their dreams.
The other set consists of people who have the means to go for their dreams because they have reliable income and access to low-cost loans. They also have access to resources such as business incubators, networking forums, classes, and even coaching if they choose it.
But they lose out on their dreams and goals because they are waiting for:
- The perfect time.
- The perfect opportunity.
- Enough money to help them launch perfectly.
- The stars to align.
- A clear sense of direction (not realizing that you get clarity as you work on your goals).
- A direct message from their higher power (this is a very common one).
- Other resources such as the right connections and people to help them along the way.
- …a host of other reasons.
Within this second set are those who start, but end up wasting time and resources because nothing is perfect. They start this and abandon it. They pick that and abandon it. Nothing seems to work because they also don’t give anything they are working on the time to mature and grow.
This doesn’t just happen in business. It also happens in careers and jobs.
- You don’t apply for certain jobs or positions because you don’t have all the requirements. Yet you could do that job or have been doing it.
- You outgrew your job or current position years ago but you’re afraid to ask for more or even move to another organization. You explore LinkedIn, read job adverts, dream of getting out of this place…and do nothing because you are waiting for the perfect time.
- There’s a qualification you need in order to advance in your job or career. But the time is never right, you never have the money, you need to wait until the kids are older… The excuses keep piling up and one day you realize that all you did was procrastinate and lose out on opportunities over the years.
I could go on and give more examples. But I think that you’ve gotten the gist of it by now.
My message today is simple: Stop waiting for perfection and go for your goals, starting today.
Don’t wait for the New Year so that you set yet another list of goals that you abandon by February.
- Start now.
- Start with what you have in your hands (and wallet or bank account).
- Choose the smallest step that you can take this week, and then take it.
- Then choose another small step and take it.
- Continue taking a step at a time until you hit your goal!
You don’t need lofty goals or a lengthy plan. All you need is a goal, the determination to achieve it, the mindset that it is possible for you, and the decision to stop waiting for perfection.
Will you succeed? Probably.
Will you fail? Probably. If you’re starting a business, then this changes to most likely.
Will you grow? Definitely!
The growth you achieve as you work on your goals is what will prepare you for higher levels of success. And the growth that comes from failure can teach you more than when you succeed. But overcoming the fear of failure is a topic for another day.
Tone down perfectionism to achieve more
Some people take pride in their drive to be perfect. However, perfectionism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Being a perfectionist means that you waste time and create stress for yourself and others. Perfectionism also stands in the way of success.
Doing a good job and having high standards isn’t the same as seeking perfection. Neither is having an attitude of excellence.
Ideally, you’d want to complete tasks in a way that ensures success. The truth is that this level is well below the level of perfection.
Here are some reasons why you should get off the perfectionism bandwagon
1. It’s not possible to achieve 100% perfection
There’s nothing in the world that has ever been created or done literally to the utmost perfection. You might as well go looking for a mythical being when you insist on 100% perfection in all that you and/or other people do.
2. Striving for perfectionism is a waste of time
Perfection requires a lot of time and effort. In most cases, this is more time and effort than the end result is worth. Also, when you focus on perfection, you don’t allocate your primary resources intelligently. So you may end up misusing or wasting time and valuable resources.
3. You get less done
When you strive to be perfect, you reduce the time required to get everything done. This may lead to a rush towards the end or overworking yourself and other people.
For example, if your boss needs a report from you, they don’t need something that can be submitted for a peer-reviewed publication. They need something that addresses the reasons why the report was requested in the first place.
Also, say you’re taking an advanced degree to improve your career prospects. You worry a lot about getting the perfect score on an exam and stress about it all the time. Does it really matter if you get a 96% on your exam or is getting your desired grade more important?
Those last 4 points are nearly impossible to capture. It can’t be done reliably. And in the end, unless you fail in other subjects, the difference in your results isn’t meaningful.
Perfectionism leads to unreasonable expectations. Striving for perfection makes you inefficient and may undo positive results you’ve already achieved.
4. Perfectionism can be a sign of insecurity
The drive for perfection is an attempt to compensate for a perceived lack of adequacy. When you believe you aren’t good enough as you are, it’s common to believe that doing everything perfectly will prove that you are capable and adequate.
An insecure person will also want to try and control their life and circumstances as much as they can. You extend this desire for perfection to other people such as employees, subordinates, spouses and children, siblings, etc.
These are heavy burdens to place on yourself and other people.
5. The need for perfection leads to procrastination
You may have noticed that you don’t do things as quickly as you should or you keep putting them off as you try to be perfect. It can be tough to even take the first step if you believe that the outcome must be perfect.
6. Perfectionism is unhealthy
The quest for perfection causes stress. Stress is damaging to the body, mind, spirit, and relationships. Perfectionists are more prone to anxiety, high blood pressure, heart disease, mental health issues, and stressful relationships.
7. You can’t work well with others
People have little patience for perfectionists and will only tolerate a perfectionist when they have no option. Everyone else wants to get things done and get on with their lives. You can accomplish much more with the help of others.
Additionally, control freaks make life miserable for everyone around them. And as I mentioned before, you end up creating unnecessary stress and friction for yourself and others.
In the long term, perfectionism makes you hard to work with and people will only work with or for you when they have to. That does not bring out the very best in them!
8. Perfection leads to frustration
There are countless ways to be less than perfect. But for the perfectionist, there is only one way to be perfect, their way! When you stick to this mindset, you give yourself thousands of ways to be unhappy and only one way to feel content.
How do you like those odds?
Perfectionists also feel contempt for anything less than perfection, which isn’t healthy. It also makes you unpleasant to be around. No one will ever meet your standards and your anger towards them isn’t appreciated.
9. Perfection is a direct enemy of success
Perfection and success aren’t compatible. Wanting perfection stems from the desire to avoid failure. Success more often than not includes failures along the way. Failure also leads to growth when you take time to examine it and learn from it. So by avoiding failure, you also limit your growth. By limiting growth you also limit your success.
Would you rather have perfectionism or success?
I’m a recovering perfectionist so I know just how hard it is to let go or change this character trait. The desire for perfection never goes away, but you can tame it.
Having read this far, you must have realized that the need for perfection is at odds with your overall happiness and peace of mind.
Make a commitment to change. End perfectionism and procrastination and achieve more success in a balanced way.
Let me help you overcome perfectionism and fear of failure
I’d love to help you if perfectionism and fear are holding you back from success.
This is for you if you’re in management or have a team of employees and you’re feeling stuck and unfulfilled when you look at unachieved dreams.
Some of the women who sign up for this 12-week life coaching program also tell me that they had become so busy with life and work, that they had forgotten how to dream.
Break Free is very powerful and you will be amazed at what you’ll have achieved by the end of the 12 weeks.
Click here to find out more about the Break Free program.
This is a 12-week business mastermind for women. It’s ideal for you if you’re a Solopreneur or if you have a part-time business while holding a full-time job.
You work on your #1 goal for the business during the Challenge with support and accountability from me and other members of your group.
Every weekday, I share an inspirational voice note and 3 prompts to help you stay focused, recharge during the day, and review your day. The voice notes are like your personal podcast!
I host 3 challenges each year (January, May, and September) and you can attend one or more. Join us if you’re ready to supercharge your business results this year!
Click here to find out more about the Finish Strong Challenge.
(Image credit: Unsplash)