You’re probably a lot like we are. You’re proud of your work and always try to put your best out there. But what if you cross that invisible line into being a perfectionist? That’s good, right? Well, not necessarily. In fact, that perfectionism streak just may be the thing that’s holding you—and your speaking and writing career—back, and we’re going to tell you why.
What Is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is when you measure yourself (or others!) by what was not accomplished rather than by what was. And it’s not the same as having healthy and productive goals. We always want to learn more and strive to grow and better ourselves, but when you can’t accept anything less than perfect, you’re ultimately holding yourself back.
Perfectionism is often linked, believe it or not, to low self-esteem. It’s that feeling of not being XYZ enough (wealthy enough, famous enough, smart enough, talented enough, beautiful enough) that drives you to keep trying harder and harder without ever having that sense of accomplishment or pride.
What Does Perfectionism Look Like?
It can look like a lot of things, but these are the most common:
- Procrastination: Because “perfect” is not attainable, you keep working and working and putting off finishing the book, sending off the proposal, or creating the presentation. Ask yourself this: How will you know when you’ve done enough to call it good and move forward?
- Focusing on what did not get done or achieved: Your book won a silver award? You worry that it didn’t get a gold. You were asked to present at a flower and garden show? You think you’re not good enough because you didn’t get invited to another conference. You post an image on social media that got 68 likes, and you look at your colleague’s post that received 132—and feel inadequate.
- Should” statements: Do you routinely say things like “I should read over that article one more time,” “I should have tried harder,” “I should have re-shot those images”? You’re setting up rigid, unrealistic expectations that can never be met. How many times do you need to look over that manuscript before you send it off?
- Hiding behind a façade: Everyone has weaknesses and “flaws.” Nobody does everything well. But perfectionists tend to hide anything that they think is not perfect, creating a façade to hide who they really are. This can hurt not only your career, but your relationships (and industries like ours are largely based upon relationships).
How Do I Overcome This?
These tips will help you, but the bottom line here is to commit to becoming more and more aware of when/how you sabotage yourself with perfectionism, and the more often you see that tendency showing up, the more quickly you’ll be able to shift your attention to what serves you.
- Done is better than perfect. Did that make you cringe to read that? Don’t let it. Do the best you’re able to at this moment, and get it done and send it off. Ask or pay someone to edit or proofread your article, then commit to handing it over. You can always fine-tune that presentation as you get additional images; just don’t let it stop you from giving the presentation in the first place.
- Imperfection is relatable. Nobody is perfect, and if you insist on trying to look perfect, your audience will not relate to you. Audiences that do not relate to you will not feel they know/like/trust you, and they will not buy your book, come to your talk, or recommend you to any venue. When you are vulnerable and let people see who you really are, they relate to you as a fellow human.
- Ask for feedback. Ask your closest friends, family, or a trusted colleague for feedback. Tell them you are genuinely trying to better yourself and wonder if they have observed anything in you that could be holding you back. If you think you’re a perfectionist, you probably are, and when people you trust confirm it, listen to them. Don’t be defensive; they love you and want you to succeed and be happy.
- Resist comparing. When you find yourself comparing yourself to another colleague, do a hard stop. What you are creating is valuable and the world needs it. It doesn’t need to be like something someone else does—it just needs to be authentic.
A Final Thought
If you refuse to publish the book or give the talk because you’re not ready, good enough, interesting enough, then you are denying a huge group of people the opportunity to learn from you. You have what someone needs—a ninja skill, years of experience, insight, and knowledge—and if perfectionism is leading you to keep that all to yourself, then many people will lose out. Who are you to do that to people?
There will always be someone out there who knows more than you do, but there will also be loads of people who are a step or two behind you. Those people need you. Don’t let your perfectionism hold you back!