Just one more time… Are you a serial tweaker? Someone who can never leave well alone? That person who, when you’ve produced something that’s 85% on point, keeps pushing for the elusive 15%?
When you’re starting out running a new business or building up a freelance portfolio, the impulse to get everything 100% right, all the time, is strong. You have standards to set, expectations to meet, clear water to create between you and the rest of the competition.
But that drive for perfection can become a rod for your own back. It’s good to be good. It’s good to be great. But it’s disastrous to be stuck in ‘never good enough’, syndrome. ‘P’ also stands for paralysis, procrastination – and panic. It’s not about taking less pride in your work. It’s about valuing your time, your efforts, your potential.
You have standards to set, expectations to meet, clear water to create between you and the rest of the competition.
The clock is ticking
It took James Joyce 17 years to complete Finnegans Wake, by the time he’d finished polishing every syllable. Most of us have tighter client deadlines to meet. Spending twice as long as necessary on a piece of writing, a presentation or a product launch risks you falling behind with other work. And can wreak havoc on your work life balance, as evenings and weekends disappear.
Author of Do Less, Get More, Sháá Wasmund lists procrastination as one of the biggest time wasters for entrepreneurs. She writes in her blog: “Perfectionism is really common in entrepreneurial businesses because most entrepreneurs are naturally high performing, give-the-best type people, which can make it hard to ship. Done is better than perfect – and you can always go back later to change something or make it better if you get feedback that merits it.”
Is this a ‘girly swots’ thing?
Does perfectionism particularly afflict women, already more prone to Imposter Syndrome and often inveterate people-pleasers?
Yes, believes, freelance journalist Lynn Strongin Dodds. “Eleanor Roosevelt once famously said ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’ However, for women, it is not just about feeling or made to feel inferior but the need to be perfect to succeed in life. This is partly down to the gender stereotypes still being perpetuated in the workplace. The perfection trap is not only detrimental to mental and physical health but also to achieving success personally and professionally.
“The problem is that it prevents women from taking risks because they are so afraid of making a mistake. This will hold them back in the end as towing the line does not lead to innovation or creativity. They need to be more confident and find their voice. Not easy but nothing ventured, nothing gained’.”
Beating the inner critic
For Gill Twyman, freelance writer and PR specialist, the problem is less with being a perfectionist than the deep-seated concern of whether what she’s done is good enough, and whether the client will like it.
“I still struggle with this, even now after decades of working with words, and have to make a conscious effort to counteract the nagging voice of doubt. How? By telling myself … look, you can do this, you know what you are doing, this plays to your skills… other clients love your work and trust you to do a great job for them. I have this script running in my head all too frequently!”
Learning from your mistakes
It’s about being realising you’re human, says Emma Kenny, Non Executive Director and coach and mentor to early stage businesses.
“As the founder of a start-up, you have to do everything – from pitching to a room full of investors to ordering the printer cartridges. You make a lot of fast decisions and do a multitude of different tasks, many of which you may not have done before. ‘Jack of all trades’ doesn’t begin to cover it.
“Inevitably, mistakes will be made and things will go wrong. What matters is that you pick yourself up, carry-on and try to do it differently next time. For a perfectionist, this can be an uncomfortable way to work. There is also evidence which indicates that women prefer to feel they understand things properly before they make decisions, whereas men are more likely to just decide and worry later.
“But, whilst perfectionism isn’t a useful trait in an entrepreneur, an obsessive focus on the one or two things that will make a business successful certainly is. So, if you find yourself worrying about every last detail, try to figure out what are the small number of big things that really matter. Hint: it probably isn’t the printer cartridges.”