The trap of perfectionism

People occasionally ask me for advice on getting started as an entrepreneur or an artist. I love talking to them. Most are confident and energetic. They know the risks, they’re okay with the thought that they might fail. Most of them are ready to go and just want a little encouragement.

But I’ve also met people who haven’t taken any steps toward meeting their goals because they’re scared not so much of failing, but of having their work be less than perfect. Talented writers don’t send out manuscripts because of small flaws. Would-be entrepreneurs never get their businesses off the ground because they’re endlessly tweaking their products. They come to me with their frustrations and tell me they’ll be ready when… well, when everything’s perfect.

What they mean to say is they’ll be ready when they’re perfect. When they’re perfect, everything they think and produce will be perfect. Or when they’re perfect, they’ll be immune to criticism and rejection.

Dude. Really?

Big success doesn’t come to those who toil away doing jobs they hate because they’re too scared to fail at doing what they love. It doesn’t come to those who futz with their products and do market research indefinitely. It comes to people who do, release their work into the world, roll with the punches, take criticism and use feedback to make their future work better.

One of my friends is the co-creator of Pocket God, the insanely popular iPhone app. What started with an idea quickly became an app. There have been bugs – and bug fixes. There have been at least 30 versions. And each release is better than the last. Pocket God has some very vocal fans – people who are quick to criticize and people who offer suggestions. If Allan had waited until Pocket God was “just right” to release it, he might still be doing corporate design work instead of doing what he really loves (and getting paid nicely for it).

Not every risk leads to this big of a reward. Sometimes it leads to nothing. No one notices or no one cares enough to have an opinion. But the point is that you’ve done something. You’ve accepted yourself as imperfect. When you acknowledge that you can fail, you also acknowledge that you can succeed. Movement forward is movement forward. It’s way better than staying stuck.

4 thoughts on “The trap of perfectionism”

  1. I love this post Jen. I had a similar conversation with the gal that I run with every day – she’s a corporate girl that is fixated on her retirement and all the fun she and her husband will have THEN! She has so much more potential than that but her corporate life has turned her into a scaredy cat – she’s terrified that any change in her strict life schedule will be a failure and that her colleagues will criticize/mock her. Such a waste! Thanks for reminding me how good it is to be an entrepreneurial artist.

  2. I can’t agree with you more – it’s amazing how much you grow as a person (and a business) once you’ve started and you’re not theorising about what you’re doing – you’re actually doing it! I love what I do – I wish I had done it years ago!

  3. Such good advice! I know I am definitely guilty of chasing perfection, sometimes to excess. While it it important to make the best work possible, you do need to balance that with moving forward on new projects.

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