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PERFECTIONISM: 3 SNEAKY PLACES IT'S HIDING IN YOUR BIZ

...and what to do about it

TRUSTED BY
DrMichaela health and wellness copywriting with heart perfectionism pencil with sharpener and shavings on white desktop

I consider myself a recovering perfectionist.

But, before I go on, I think it’s worth pausing to clarify what I mean by “perfectionism”.

Very often, it’s used interchangeably with (quasi-complimentary) terms like:

high-achieving
detail-oriented
meticulous

…and also some less-savory descriptors, like:

Type A
difficult
(self-)critical

WHAT EVEN IS PERFECTIONISM…?

My own definition of perfectionism has evolved over the years, and here’s how I currently understand it:

Perfectionism is less about the standard you’re aiming for than it is about the motivation behind your aims. 

If I’m aiming high because I’m fearful of criticism, failure, rejection, etc., then I’m essentially tying my self-worth to how I perform and what I produce. To me, that’s perfectionism.

If, on the other hand, I’m aiming high because I’m curious, interested, and engaged in the process of what I’m doing, then I’m seeing my work as intrinsically valuable (and potentially valuable to others!) and separate from my own self-worth as a person. To me, that’s a healthy pursuit of excellence

This distinction works well for me, because it allows me to continue striving to do great work while gently checking in with myself about how it’s all feeling.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

It should. I didn’t come up with it on my own. 😉

I’ve seen similar ideas echoed in the words of some folks I greatly admire.

Like Brené Brown:

Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.

…and Anne Lamott:

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

…and Carol Dweck (author of the book I believe should be required reading for every person on the planet):

In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail—or if you’re not the best—it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome. They’re tackling problems, charting new courses, working on important issues.

And my understanding of perfectionism is constantly evolving.

Recently, I came across this concise video that presents a unique twist on the way we tend to think about perfectionism:

Perfectionism is only a problem because we have under-budgeted for difficulty, not because we are aiming high. 

I highly recommend you check it out.  

It sums up exactly what I believe each one of us can be, once we kick perfectionism to the curb:

A “patient, resilient quester for excellence”.

HIDDEN PERFECTIONISM  

When I posted on Instagram about the way perfectionism had shown up in a surprising part of my daily routine, I received direct messages from so many of you, sharing your own struggles with the ‘P’ word. 

Most of us are aware of the obvious ways perfectionism gets in our way. But, what about the hidden places?

It got me thinking about some of the challenges I’ve encountered in my own business that eventually revealed themselves to be perfectionism in disguise.

One by one, I’ve tried to root them out and confront them. For my own peace of mind, and for the sake of my work. 

It’s taken time, but I’ve uncovered a lot of them.

And today, I’d like to share my Top 3 with you. 

Read on for 3 sneaky places perfectionism is hiding in your business (+ what you can do about it!):

1) In your leaky boundaries

You can’t make everyone happy. You are not a Nutella jar.

Anonymous creator of clever viral meme I wish I wrote

Maybe it’s the “Sure, I can help!” that you’re now regretting.

Or the work hours that have crept quietly into your off hours.

The client or patient you took on, even though you sensed it wasn’t quite the right fit.

Or the notification chimes that have you reaching for your phone like one of Pavlov’s pups.  

It might as well be a universal law of psychology + civil engineering: Where there’s resentment, exhaustion, or a general feeling of ick, there’s probably a leak in at least 1 of your boundaries.

And what sneaky culprit often springs those leaks in the boundaries around your time, energy, and other precious resources?

You guessed it: Perfectionism.

Friend, it’s so natural to want to please your people.

Your colleagues,
Your readers.
Your dream clients.

They’re your cheering section! Your sounding board! Your people!

But, try as you might (and as you probably have), you will never be able to show up for ALL of your people, ALL of the time, in ALL the ways you want to.

It’s just not possible!  

So, what’s an (imperfect) person to do?

That’s what I’ve done. And it’s made me so much happier + so much more useful than perfectionism ever has.

2) In your unfinished work

Best is the enemy of good.

Voltaire

Running your own business is no joke. We know this.

There’s so much you could be doing, all the time.

That’s why it’s extra-frustrating when we see ourselves dragging our feet. Letting things languish on our To Do lists.

“I’m such a procrastinator!!,” we wail at our pets, as they stare back at us with thinly-veiled disgust.

(Just me?)

But, here’s the thing:

Perfectionism is often lurking just behind that temptation to procrastinate. 

It might be hiding in the big stuff:

  • that group you’ve been meaning to get off the ground for weeks
  • the idea for a talk you’ve been kicking around for months
  • the practice you’ve been wanting to launch for years

…and in the small stuff:

  • the unsent emails
  • the design of your logo or business cards
  • the monthly networking event you keep passing up

If you notice some tasks have been following you around just a bit too long now, please don’t jump straight to self-lecturing mode.

Because your procrastination is probably driven in part by perfectionism. And perfectionism is driven almost completely by fear.

And you wouldn’t harass someone who’s already frightened, would you? Of course not. That’s bullying.

Repeat after me:

“I am NOT a lazy, undisciplined procrastinator.
I just care about my work a whole lot.
And this kicks up all kinds of fear.
Which leads me to avoid tasks that feel risky.
And to seek refuge in distractions that feel like progress but don’t actually matter.  
And I know this simply means I’m human.
And humans deserve compassion.
So, first, I’m going to treat myself with patience and kindness.
And then I’m going to get back to work.”

P.S. If you think I’m magically exempt from this problem just because I’m writing this blog post + sharing some progress I’ve made… 

Dude. Let me tell you:

This s%&# runs DEEP.

In fact, I went down a little perfectionist rabbit hole just now, as I was trying to decipher the proper translation to the original French of Voltaire’s quote, above.

I did a thorough internet search.
I ran it through a bunch of auto-translators.
I consulted my fluent-in-French sister. (Thanks, Bug.)

Ultimately, I made a choice and moved on.

But, only after I’d hemmed and hawed, and entertained all sorts of twitchy thoughts about the perils of misquoting a famous philosopher’s advice ABOUT THE PERILS OF LETTING PERFECTIONISM DELAY YOUR PROGRESS AND OMG ARE YOU CHOKING ON THE IRONY?!? BECAUSE I AM.

3) In your writing

Stop imagining what’s going to work. Find out for real.

Jason Fried

Fun fact about me:

Writing was both the highlight and the bane of my research career.

“Highlight” because I loved the process of translating complex, often nuanced research findings into real-world messages that could be applied in actual, practical ways.

“Bane” because… well, it took me freaking forever. I cared so deeply about the implications of my projects, and I enjoyed so thoroughly the experience of fine-tuning the living daylights out of every line of text, that it just about drove my (much-esteemed) advisor to the edge:

“Michaela, your rough drafts need to be… rougher.”
“This paragraph is beautifully written. Stop trying to improve it.”
“These conclusions are too important to waste time perfecting the paper.”
  

And she was absolutely right: I spent way too much time perfecting my papers.


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Here’s what I know now that I wish I would’ve known back then:

Perfect words do not add value to the world. Published ones do.

(And just for the record: By “published” I certainly don’t mean published-in-a-peer-reviewed-journal. I mean published as in SHARED. With other humans.)

See, by wordsmithing my copy into oblivion, I thought I was ultimately delivering a more valuable piece of work. And maybe I was. But the truth is I wasn’t delivering anything at all until I (finally) released it into the world!

So often, we fall into the trap of thinking the only path to excellent writing is through private, secret, lengthy revisions. 

But, it’s a lie.

Putting something really good out there for others to see. That’s where it’s at.

And then, once you have, there’s nothing stopping you from improving upon what you’ve written. 

You can always write another IG caption.
You can always revise your eBook.
You can always update your blog posts.

As Jason Fried writes in his book, Rework:

Don’t mistake this approach for skimping on quality. You still want to make something great. This approach just recognizes that the best way to get there is through iterations.

Iterations, friend.

Drafts. Do-overs. Mistakes.

And a willingness to let them happen out in the open. In front of your audience.

That’s all it takes to start calling out that sneak, perfectionism. And showing him the door.


LET’S TAKE ACTION!

OK, here’s your action step for today:

  • Be honest with yourself + choose 1 area of your biz where perfectionism has been hiding. What’s 1 way you can take action to show perfectionism the door? (Share your commitment in the comments below, so we can encourage you!)

Cheering you on!


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HI!  I’M MICHAELA. 
I help health + wellness professionals connect with their dream clients through genuine, engaging communication. After spending over a decade studying, researching, and teaching psychology + communication principles, I started this business to empower health + wellness professionals like me to “preach what you practice”. I share practical guidance so you can get clear on your unique value, communicate it with heart, attract + serve the people you love working with most… and actually have fun along the way.
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