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Slay the ‘perfectionist Dragon’, It Is Best for You and Your Business

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Slay the ‘perfectionist Dragon’, It Is Best for You and Your Business

I was a whopping four years old when perfectionism reared its ugly head for the first time. I argued with my mum over how to best change my new baby brother’s nappies. I mean, really … Personally, I may have given me up for adoption at this stage, but my parents are much better people than me, clearly.

Perfectionism is an issue that mars most entrepreneurs’ and business owners’ lives, and yet we find it so hard to escape from. Polishing that sales presentation, missing out on sleep/the gym/family time because we ‘just need to finish this one thing’, and trying to do everything yourself. Sound familiar? It sure ruled my life. Because that precocious toddler blossomed into the ‘Queen of Perfectionism’.

But perfectionism is an illusion: nothing can ever be permanently perfect, so as perfectionists we set ourselves up for failure. Not a good course of action. A few years ago, it just got all too bloody much. My perfectionism had made me spread myself too thin and involving myself too deeply. Suddenly, I totally crashed physically, and as a result, mentally it was also a tough ride.

I’m glad this happened, though, because it finally taught me that instead of striving for perfectionism, it’s much wiser to choose to be kind to myself. Easier said than done, but I made it (most days). This is what I’ve learned:

1. Nobody is perfect.

Yes, being thorough is important, but you have to draw the line. It still sends a slight shudder down my ex-perfectionist’s spine, but ‘close enough is good enough’ is actually wise advice. Life changes constantly and we have only limited control over what happens, so ‘perfect’ can only ever be a very temporary state.

2. Ask for help.

The toughest thing for me was to ask for help. If I need help that surely means I’m not capable? Actually, it means I’m now working more cleverly, have more fun and far, far less stress in my life (hurrah!). Distilling what can be outsourced and delegated might take up some initial time, but, boy, is it worth it in the long run.

3. Say, “No”.

Do you say, “Yes”, to every invitation to meet up over a coffee, because you think it’s good manners or networking etiquette? I did. Nowadays I ask, “Why”, more often before committing: Why do they want to talk to me? Why face-to-face? Why now?

Often it transpires that we can help each other after a quick 10-minute phone or Skype chat, and we both saved one to two hours of our respective days. Sweet!

4. ‘Me’ first, everything else second.

Sounds selfish, right? Good. Be selfish for once. There’s nothing wrong with looking after yourself first: your time, your health, your people, your business. Because without you being as well as you can be, everyone and everything around you will be worse off. And running your business will be a hard and stressful slog.

5. Don’t compare.

Our competitors or networking buddies are making it all look so easy, right? You talk to them, and everything seems to be going so smoothly for them! Compare that to the continual fires you’re putting out, and gloom descends. I’ll let you in on a secret. They go through the same issues you have; no one is immune. They are simply not telling because perfect is what society tells us is the only way to be.

6. Celebrate.

Pop out the champagne, take yourself away for a break, or simply acknowledge your successes and wins with a quiet pat on your own back. Perfectionists are good at beating themselves up over what didn’t go according to plan and very bad at seeing just how awesome they are. Go on, live a little, celebrate!

There are many other ways of slaying the perfectionism dragon: simply start by being more gentle and caring to yourself, and you’ll blossom. As business owners, our lives ‘at the top’ can be lonely.

So, backing yourself is the kindest thing you can do for yourself – and for your business.

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Showing 20 comments
  • Suki
    Reply

    Well said Daniela! As a recovering perfectionist (I say recovering as I still have relapses) it’s SOO important to remember perfectionism is a myth. If you accidentally hit ‘post’ with that typo, guess what? The world won’t blow up. Your line ‘They are simply not telling, because perfect is what society tells us is the only way to be.’ really hit the nail on the head. Twice the concept of society valuing ‘correct’ over all else popped up in two totally different contexts for me yesterday and it’s true – we’ve been raised that ‘correct’ is the only way… but there’s not only one way to be correct! Well… I’m off to treat myself to a lunchtime toastie from the local cafe… it’s not quite champagne but it’s still going easy on my recovering perfectionist self!

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      Hey Suki,

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one whose heart still sometimes sinks when (due to atrocious typing skills and too much going on … wait a minute?! See, I’m still trying to blame something else so I can look perfect at least in theory … damn!) I send out a quick email or – god forbid! – a social media post with a typo or grammar gremlin setting up home in it.

      I like what you are saying about valuing being “correct”! I have seen it as an absolute, interchangeable with “truth” as well; you really opened my eyes to even “correct” being all about subjective perspective. Thank you. … Now, I hope the toastie was yummy and that this week will bring you some even better rewards for being awesome at slaying the perfectionism dragon and loving what you achieved.

  • Roland Hanekroot
    Reply

    Hmmmm, a lunchtime toastie, Suki!… you are taking it to a whole other level… good for you!… and hooray Daniela, yes, as Seth Godin or someone equally erudite once said (probably Nelson Winston Ghandi… he says all the good stuff): “Perfect is the enemy of Done”… The problem with perfectionism is that it gives the Little Voice on Your Shoulder a perfect opportunity to make you feel rubbish about yourself, because no matter what you do… it’s never quite good enough… Close Enough is Indeed Good Enough… or as we used to say when I was a builder: Good Enough For The Bush”
    My new self image is going to be “Mr 91%”… (and Australian bubbly is not quite champagne, but good enough for me Suki!)

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      Mr 91%, thank you.

      I shall make a big sign saying “Perfect is the Enemy of Done” and plaster it on my walls: next to the bathroom mirror, the computer, on the fridge.

      You deserve that glass of champers. Cheers!

  • mm
    Carla Schesser
    Reply

    I really enjoyed this one Daniela! Point 5 – Don’t compare, really hit home for me. x

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      I think we all do compare ourselves to others from time to time and on one level or another, Carla. And some of this is healthy, I think. Over my years in employment, networking and running a business, it certainly seems that us women have a bigger ‘knack’ for it than the lads, though. There are many gender-equality issues playing into it (I shall leave that for another post), but also a natural desire to create and be the best we can be. An honourable intention that somehow got warped to our detriment along the way,

  • Cate Scolnik
    Reply

    Hi Daniela,

    So it’s not just me who’s worked herself into a barely coherent mental and physical wreck? It’s such a trap, isn’t it?

    A phrase I heard recently that’s helping me ditch perfectionism is the ‘first pancake version’. You know how the first pancake often sticks in the pan and isn’t quite ‘perfect’? Well getting that first pancake version of something out into the world is now my aim. Each new batch can be a bit better, but if I don’t get that first one cooked I’ll never get anywhere.

    Another one I use is whenever I get to the end of the day and start thinking “I haven’t done ….” I stop and think “No. I’ve done enough today.”

    And now I can add in your phrase “Me first, everything else second”. That’s my new mantra – thanks for sharing! 😉

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      Hi Cate,

      You, alone in the club? HA! 🙂

      I like the “first pancake” principle, thank you.

      And it’s a timely reminder as well, while I’m finally ditching my 7-year old website “design” and am in the process of structuring, designing and writing a new one. I could fine-tune that for ages, but I want the damn (sorry website: lovely) thing out in the world.

      Let’s make more imperfect pancakes. Hallelujah!

  • Peter Oakley
    Reply

    I am looking forward to Point 6 – then repeating Point 6 again just to be sure ! Great article Daniela.

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      for your kind words. … Knowing you, Peter, there shall be many moments for you to celebrate!

  • Sam - GiveGet
    Reply

    I think the problem with a perfectionist mindset is that it’s the bar you also set for other people. Most of the negative feedback I’ve received from people in my business has been that something doesn’t meet their standard. Judgements are cast. Studies reveal that first impressions are made in a split second and last a ridiculous amount of time. This is why we’re pushed to perfectionism. Because very few people have the ability to critically think about the separation of a typo as not being indicative of a more significant failing of work standards. It’s good and well to tolerate a near enough is good enough mindset but unless we give each other a break it’ll always hold us back.

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      Well said, Sam. That’s why I hope kindness will indeed become the new black. We are so wrapped up – as a society and individually – in perfect and shiny, that often we do not value the humanity, individuality and depth of each other. We miss each other’s unique stories in that way, sadly.

  • Jason Lockwood
    Reply

    Good piece, Daniela. I certainly believe in doing the best I can, but that all elusive, and incidentally Platonic, ideal of ‘perfect’ is unattainable.

    I do think perfect is a valid word, but it doesn’t mean completely flawless. To me it’s a contextual notion: doing a perfect job means doing my best, and then striving to improve with each subsequent job or piece of work. I wrote ‘perfectly’ 20 years ago, but today I’m better than I was then.

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      That’s a great viewpoint, Jason: “doing a perfect job means doing my best”. It looks inwards rather than measuring ourselves against another’s yardstick and seeking external validation.

      Powerful words I shall remind myself of should the old perfectionism streak rear its ugly head again (it’s bound to)!

      I’m sure many readers will benefit from your insight – thank you for sharing it.

      • Jason Lockwood
        Reply

        I’ve had a long time standing order to avoid comparing myself to others, and in every aspect of my life, both professional and personal. It’s not that I don’t sometimes have a fleeting thought that someone is better at something than I am or that I wish my first book were selling as much as someone else’s, but instead of wallowing in it, I stop and consider my achievements on their own merits. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I enjoy all the new challenges I encounter.

        Months ago, my business partner and I decided to take on some casual work as autocue (teleprompting) operators. It’s an entirely new field for us with a number of challenges. It’s turned out to be great fun, and we occasionally get to meet a celebrity or two. It’s proof that, wherever one’s background or career inclinations, it’s good to push the envelope.

        • Daniela Cavalletti
          Reply

          Comparison with others can only lead to misery, I agree. If you perceiver yourself as worse, you’re miserable. If you perceive yourself as better, you stop striving to be the best you can be and loose your fire. I’d be miserable then.

          Autocues – you never stop surprising me with your versatility. Go you and and your team, Jason!

  • fanny ronkainen
    Reply

    That’s a great article D 🙂

    Rings true for a lot of us and I think if we can stop, reflect and celebrate what we’ve done we’ll be able to march forward with new energy and achieve so much more!

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      Thanks, Fanny, I thought this might be right up your alley!

      Your very open and honest article http://www.lucidhealthcoaching.com/training/happy-the-story-about-fanny/ regarding your journey through different attitudes to training, happiness and self-care kept popping up for me when I was writing this article. You’re clients are very lucky indeed to have a fitness coach with so much depth and width of knowledge, and a truly holistic approach.

  • Linda Wilson
    Reply

    Great Read Daniela and such an important message for all. I too have been struck immobile by the perfectionist illusion and console myself with the truth…. that it doesn’t exist. Valuing and celebrating when we get it as ‘right’ as we do is where the gold is.

    • Daniela Cavalletti
      Reply

      Being ‘struck immobile’ is a great way of putting how I have felt many times, Linda.. The overwhelm that inevitably comes with the futile attempt to be perfect just made my brain and energy go to ’tilt’ level. Game over… How much nicer it would have been to celebrate the wins rather than worry about the perfection. I’m glad you have managed to find your balance.

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