If you’re a perfectionist, you know first hand how much perfectionism can delay you from finishing something, or stop you from even starting at all. The problem is that we can sometimes think this is a good thing and don’t recognize perfectionism for what it truly is.
Perfectionism has a way of disguising itself as a positive trait. It can make you think that because you’re striving for excellence, you shouldn’t finish anything less than perfect. In reality, you end up wasting so much time not finishing things and procrastinating. And, you can still strive for excellence while completing tasks!
The truth? All of us have a little perfectionist in us. So if you have big dreams and goals, whether at work, your side hustle, with your relationships, or in a creative pursuit, your perfectionism might be holding you back.
What is a perfectionist?
According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, perfectionism is:
“a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.”
So if you’re holding back from something because the result may be less than perfect, you’re dealing with your inner perfectionist.
Perfectionism might show up for you at work when working on a project. You might work on a project for DAYS on end because you want it to be perfect. You refuse to finish it until you consider it perfect. This can disguise itself as a good trait! It can show you care a lot about your job and your work.
Instead, what this actually does is stress you out, waste your time, waste your company’s time, and hurt your self-confidence. Now, I’m not saying you should care less about your work. You should always try your best. But sometimes (often!) you might not see your best as perfect, and that’s where we fall short in growing and learning. It’s much better for everyone involved that you try your best and continue progressing than waiting for perfect.
For my fellow side hustlers, perfectionism probably shows up a lot. If you’ve got that side hustle you’re dying to get going on, that blog you want to start, or that writing you want to get out to the internet, you’ve probably gotten a lot less further on it than you’d like because you’re waiting for it to be perfect. I especially see this with young professionals who feel like their side hustle time is precious and they don’t want to spend it doing anything that’s not great.
But really, that outlook will just ensure your side hustle never even starts at all, let alone gets great.
Why we must stop perfectionism
You might be reading this and wonder why I so strongly hate perfectionism. After all, some professionals even bring up their perfectionist trait in job interviews!
But we need to look a little deeper into what perfectionism is and what it does.
(Hint: it kills dreams.)
The truth is that underneath all of that fancy elegance that perfectionism can make you feel, underneath the idea that because you’re a perfectionist, you care deeply about your work, is just fear.
Perfectionism is like a Chanel version of being completely terrified.
If you focus only on your work being perfect before you consider it finished, then here’s the kicker… you might never finish it! So, your perfectionism is just an excuse for you not to launch something, release something, turn in a project, or otherwise because you’re afraid it won’t be perfect.
What’s the killer behind this? You could waste so, so much time “perfecting” a project that probably won’t ever be perfect anyway, and that’s time you can never get back. That’s time wasted that could’ve been spent working on something else, learning from your errors, or even spending time with friends or family!
What’s worse than perfectionism preventing you from getting things done is when perfectionism stops you from even starting at all because you’re so afraid you’ll create something less than perfect.
So let’s now think of perfectionism in a job interview again. If I was interviewing someone and they told me that they are a perfectionist, that would say to me that they will probably take a LONG time to get things done because they’re so afraid of how it might turn out. Or worse, they might not even start things at all.
Tips on combatting your inner perfectionist
As we can see, perfectionism is something we all have to work to avoid every single day. We all are victims of it to some extent, but there are absolutely steps we can take to combat it! So if there’s that side hustle you’re waiting to start, a website you’re waiting to launch, a project at work you’ve been wanting to take on, etc., take some of these tips below and get going!
1- Identify it for what it is
Call it out. Don’t be easy on perfectionism! Identify it for what it truly is- fear. Then, look a bit deeper into what you’re really afraid of. Are you afraid of being embarrassed? Confused? Out of place? Whatever it is, identify it. This will make it easier to deal with.
2- Stop being selfish
You got real with what perfectionism, now get real with yourself. Don’t allow perfectionism, a self-proclaimed personality trait of caring too much, get in the way of the bigger goals. Those projects or ideas that perfectionism is stopping you from completing isn’t only getting in the way of your dreams, but it’s also stopping progress on your own business, your side hustle, the company you work for, and even your family. You going for your dreams is bigger than you.
3- Live in a growth mindset
If you are in the mindset of growing and learning, it’s a lot easier to see your work, projects, and products as learning experiences, not things that define you. Try to stay in a growth and learning mentality.
4- Know that even “perfect” products will change anyway
The truth is that no matter how perfect your work may feel, whether that essay for school, that article for a big publication, a PowerPoint at work, or your website for your side hustle, you’re likely going to change things anyway. And that’s okay! That’s how evolving works. Again, if you’re in that mentality of learning and growing, you’ll want to be constantly evolving anyway. And others will not care that you change things around once it’s out in the open. Truthfully, they probably won’t even notice.
5- Accept discomfort
This is much, much easier said than done, but the sooner we can accept that we will always coexist with fear, the easier it will be to carry on with it by our side. We don’t need to work on getting rid of fear because I doubt it will ever truly leave us. But, accepting that it’s here, it’s not going anywhere and that we can still persevere while feeling it is perhaps the most important part of combatting the perfectionist in us.
“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
6- Remind yourself your work won’t get worse
Just because you’re pushing through your perfectionist ways and perhaps your fear does not mean that the quality of your work will get worse. It could get worse, but it doesn’t have to. You should always try your best and take pride in your work, but you can do these things without the overarching weight of perfect on your shoulders. Because whether you’re going for perfect or going for progress, trying your best is all you can ask of yourself anyway.
7- Set deadlines for yourself
Deadlines are friends of the recovering perfectionist. Whether you decide you’ll finish a project in two weeks or you set a 45-minute timer to write an article, they help hold you accountable to getting things done. Perfectionists struggle to complete tasks because they’ll never be perfect. Deadlines are designed to inform when your tasks will be complete.
The most important tip of all:
Be tremendously compassionate with yourself.
None of the tips outlined above are easy to do in practice. Dealing with perfectionism is incredibly hard to do in practice. Starting anything new? Also incredibly difficult.
While going for your dreams, combatting perfectionism, or anything else you’re calling into your life right now, be gentle with yourself.
“What will make you finish something is not self-discipline, but self-forgiveness”
– Elizabeth Gilbert