Just Get it Done! The Failure of Perfectionism

[Editor’s Note: One of the wonderful things about the web is that electrons are a lot easier to change than stone tablets, or even books. (And books, these days, are actually pretty easy to change.) I am constantly finding things to improve in my various sites–but they’re up, and I make the changes as we go forward.–Shel Horowitz]

I’m a great cook, and I have a framed piece of paper from the Ritz cooking school in Paris to prove it. And yet, I burn the pine nuts every stinking time.

My Russian impresses everyone. I once spoke it with near-native fluency, doing simultaneous translation, and enjoying poetry, puns and tongue twisters. And yet, I once accidentally insulted someone in a linguistic mix-up so severe he said, “If you were a guy, I’d slug you.” Eep!

And of course, I’m a marketing expert. Since you get where this is going you’ll know by now that I don’t always get the client and not every program is a hit.

How perfect am I? Turns out, not very. I’m darn good at some things, and at the three I mentioned above, I’m a lot better than most. But I’m still human and thus, unfortunately, imperfect.

How ’bout you? How are you doing on the perfect scale?

This topic has been up a LOT within the Enlightened Marketing community, so I thought I’d share thoughts about it in today’s article. I would love to hear from you about this on our blog.

I like you just the way you are.

“Is it at least a B+?” asked my protégé, Andy. What a stupid question to ask of an A+ person like me.

It was 2009, and he was referring to my new website design. After so many conversations about launching it, he finally confronted me about why I hadn’t. Because, it wasn’t ready!

Naturally, there were so many things to add, to change and to improve. It’s a big deal, a new website. It’s the public face of my business. What if there were ….

Typos? That would be incredibly embarrassing. Or…

Something missing? Like widgets in the sidebar, or a Services page, or fresher testimonials. Or…

Something to improve? Oh man, there’s SO MUCH to improve….

It was hard for me to stop working on it. While slaving over the text on pages most people would never read, I began to be in danger of Never. Hitting. Publish. Ever.

“Perfect,” as my friend Lisa Nirell says, “is the enemy of done.”

Since no website is ever going to be perfect – it’s always a work in progress – trying to get it perfect means it will never get done.

No website means no visitors – no prospects – no clients – no money. Hm, I think I can predict the future of that business!

Here’s what else I’ve noticed about perfectionism:

* It’s a Stop Sign for progress. My clients who struggle with perfectionism can’t cut the umbilical cord on their projects. Some of them can’t even get started. They futz, tinker, tweak, think, rethink and incubate forever.

Effective business owners keep marching forward. I love the marketing video I saw from one work-at-home-mom in which you can see an unmade bed in the background. Imperfect, yet it’s selling her program. I’m sure there are lots of other, less successful entrepreneurs criticizing her video while having never made one of their own.

As my colleague Stephen Moulton says, “My crap is better than your nothing.”

* It destroys creativity. My “vision” is perfect, but my creation never will be, so I will daydream about it, and visit it in my mind, but never bring it to life. How many discoveries, cures and solutions never came to be because the inventors kept fiddling around with them?

* It discourages empathy. Perfectionism is a rejection of our own humanity, and it makes us less tolerant of others. Less accepting, less loving. You may feel you’re harder on yourself than anyone else, but don’t be fooled. That judgment is insidious and will start to creep.

* It’s ego-centric. When we’re striving for perfection, we focus on ourselves and not on the clients we’re here to help. Who is hurt when you avoid a networking event because your audio logo isn’t perfect? When your training program is incomplete? Not just you; but also the clients who rely on your expertise.

Let’s be clear: I’m not advocating for mediocrity. I’m not talking about ignoring mistakes that can damage your brand. In my experience, perfectionists are accustomed to delivering high value, and they somehow begin to form unrealistic expectations for themselves.

Perfectionism is a belief system that creates bad habits, but you can reprogram yourself to let go of unsupportive beliefs and develop new habits. Here’s what I’d recommend:

1. Identify the beliefs that lead to your perfectionism. Do you need to learn more before you can get started? Must you be better than everyone else at what you do? Do mistakes lead to tragedy? Is everything always your fault?

Believing that my website had to be perfect because I’m a marketing expert meant it almost never saw the light of day. Now, that imperfect old thing brings me thousands of visitors and enough clients and revenue that I don’t care so much that I never got that Services page done or the widgets added, or – hey, is that a typo?

2. Reorder your priorities. Is getting it just right more important than helping your clients? What’s really most important in your work?

3. Practice feeling the discomfort of the unfamiliar. Good enough. B+. 95% of the way there. The messy creative process. The ugly middle. Whichever is the zone in which you’d normally bail, hang out there a little while.

Somewhere along the way, the pursuit of excellence turned into an unhealthy obsession with perfectionism. It’s time to make a conscious choice to get out of your own way. It’s tough but expansive.

© 2010 Enlightened Marketing

By Samantha Hartley of Enlightened Marketing. For effective marketing strategies that align with your values visit http://www.enlightenedmarketing.com/